Ableton Live is going 64-bit only – so what does that mean?

Later this year, Ableton Live will only be available in a 64-bit version. But what does that mean for you?

This is a development that has some implications for Ableton Live’s compatibility, stability, the pace of features and improvements, and that question of “wait, which version am I supposed to choose on the Ableton download page?” Ableton invited CDM to their offices to discuss the change and give us a chance to understand the thinking behind the decision and to help figure out what users might want to know.

But first, it’s actually worth understanding what 64-bit music software actually does.

What are 64-bit and 32-bit, anyway?

First, you know, 64-bit is twice as much as 32-bit, which means it’s twice as … well, 32 more … double the …

Okay, let’s be honest, even lots of fairly tech-savvy don’t really know what these terms mean, let alone what impact they have in real-world use.

Software runs on numbers. So when we refer to “64-bit” or “32-bit” software, we’re talking about the word length, or precision, of the numbers the software uses to reference memory. If you have a higher word length, you have more precision, and the software can address more memory.

Think of phone numbers for comparison. Leave out the area code and country code, and you eventually run out of available phone numbers. But add some additional digits, and you have more available numbers – and you can call a greater number of individual people.

With 32-bit software, Ableton Live and all of its plug-ins can use only up to 4 GB of available RAM (or even less on some versions of Windows). But 64-bit software can address all of your RAM, on any computer sold today. (The theoretical limit is so high, you can’t even buy a computer that comes close to hitting the ceiling, at least for the foreseeable future.)

What does more memory mean when you’re making music?

If you have a computer with 8GB or 16GB or more of RAM, there’s some reason to want to use all of that memory. As you load big sample libraries, and add plug-ins or ReWire clients, and as your Live set grows, all of that uses up memory.

Oh, yeah, and one other thing – running out of RAM can cause a DAW to crash. You might not even know that was the cause of a crash: Live crashes, you curse, and you might not realize that the choice you made on that dropdown when you downloaded could be a factor.

32-bit and backwards compatibility

Live added 64-bit support way back at Live 8.4 – that’s the summer of 2012. So if 64-bit is better than 32-bit, why did Ableton keep making new 32-bit versions of its software for over five years?

Running a 64-bit DAW requires a 64-bit operating system – for Live, that’s a 64-bit version of Windows Vista or later, or Mac OS X 10.5 or later. (Microsoft has their own FAQ to help you figure out if you’ve got the right OS for 64-bit.)

64-bit DAWs also need 64-bit versions of plug-ins. Most plug-in developers have already updated their plug-ins for 64-bit, but some haven’t. (There are wrappers you can use, and these were more popular when DAWs first started to go 64-bit, but let’s not go there – especially since part of the idea here is to improve stability!)

Okay, so you need a 64-bit OS, you need to update your plug-ins, and you need to have more than 4GB of RAM for this to be useful. Back in 2012, a non-trivial population of Live users fit that description.

Years later, the picture looks different. Nearly everyone has more than 4GB of RAM, meaning they’re going to benefit from the 64-bit version of the software. And not everyone seems to be aware of that. Ableton tells us that 85% of current Live users who are running the 32-bit version of the software have more than 4GB of RAM. That means 85% of those 32-bit users are actually unable to take advantage of hardware they already own.

That tips the scales. Now Ableton Live’s user base may be better off without new 32-bit versions coming out than with them.

Why are these developers smiling? Going 64-bit only will make the development process faster – and the Live experience more crash-free. Also, Club Mate.

Why go 64-bit only?

First off, nothing is changing for versions of Live up through and including Live 9.7.4. You can still download and run those older versions in their 32-bit versions. And remember that you can install more than one version of Live on the same computer, side by side. So if you’ve got a Live set that uses some old 32-bit plug-in, you can keep a 32-bit version of Live on your machine to open it.

What’s changing is, that dropdown on the download page is going away for every version starting later this year. Ableton will only develop a 64-bit version of Live and Max for Live going forward.

The downside of this is pretty simple: you won’t be able to use some old 32-bit plug-in and the latest version of Live at the same time. (Though you can still use the older Live with the older plug-in.) You’ll also need a 64-bit operating system (though on the Mac side, Apple tends to drag you along to new OSes and new hardware, anyway).

But the upsides to forcing Live users to go 64-bit when they update may be bigger than you’d expect.

Fewer crashes. The 32-bit version of Live crashes more than the 64-bit version – a lot more. Ableton collect the number of crashes. The 32-bit version of Live crashes 44% more often than the 64-bit version.

Most of these crashes are as simple as Live running out of memory – not a bug, not a misbehaved plug-in, but just hitting that 3.5-4GB memory ceiling imposed by running a 32-bit version of the software. (Some may be the result of dubious old 32-bit plug-ins, too, but that’s also a reason to dump plug-ins that haven’t been updated to 64-bit.)

Fewer Live crashes overall means fewer people having to talk to support about these crashes, which is better for everybody.

Faster updates. I also spoke with Ableton’s engineering side about why they’d want to drop 32-bit development.

Supporting both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Live adds overhead to the entire development process. More overhead can translate to us getting fewer new features, or getting them less quickly.

That overhead impacts the time spent coding and debugging Ableton Live, not only for the humans, but also for the machines those humans rely on to do their work. When engineers make a change in Live’s code, they have to wait while servers build, test, and output the results. Even with a room full of racks of pricey, powerful computer hardware making that happen, the process takes hours, especially at peak times.

Take away the 32-bit side of things, and developers get their results faster. In practical terms, that could mean they get their change back today, instead of having to wait until coming into the office tomorrow morning. Since engineers typically like to stay focused and in the zone, that’s important.

Add everything together – supporting more use cases, more old plug-ins, dealing with more crashes, added development time to support two versions, added time to test and build two versions of the software – and you get a lot of added drag to Live’s development.

This isn’t just about making Ableton happy. Removing that drag from the process means those engineers can work on Live more efficiently. The upshot for us is, we get more the stuff we want – fixes and new features.

What you need to do

It may actually have taken more time to read this article than it will to make the leap to 64-bit Ableton Live use. But hopefully it gives you some notion of what’s going on in the world of the people making the software we use.

For your part, assuming you aren’t already running the 64-bit Ableton Live, here’s what to consider:

On Windows, you might want to double-check you have the 64-bit version of the OS installed. (Click your Start button, right-click Computer, click Properties. Under System, you’ll see which version of Windows you’re running.)

As far as checking your plug-ins, Ableton have some resources on the topic:

Recommendations for using VST plug-ins on Windows

Recommendations for using AU and VST plug-ins on Mac

Since 32-bit plug-ins don’t show up in the 64-bit version, the easiest way to check compatibility is to launch the 64-bit version and see if the plug-in disappears. (Don’t laugh – this really is the easiest method.) If it’s invisible, odds are you need to go to the developer and download a 64-bit version, if available. And as mentioned earlier, you can still keep the 32-bit Live on your hard drive if you find a plug-in that requires it.

Relevant to versions from 8.4 [64-bit introduction] through now [prior to going 64-bit only], here’s Ableton’s existing FAQ:

64-bit vs 32-bit – FAQ

I hope this gives you some insight into how Live works, and ideally makes your Live use more productive and crash-free. If you have any more questions, let us know.

Thanks to various engineers and product managers at Ableton who contributed to this story, particularly Alex Wiedemann (former Ableton software engineer and now head of Technical Support Berlin).

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Buchla’s twisted waveforms get a software rendition

It’s pretty close to sticking Buchla inside your PC: Softube are adding a Buchla 259e Twisted Waveform Generator to their virtual Eurorack, “Modular.”

This is in fact the first officially licensed software rendition of a Buchla module, though the official part may be the source of some controversy. Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments wound up in court with its original founder, Don Buchla, before his death. The parties settled out of court, but certainly some of the shine of the brand was lost in the process.

That said, branding aside, this looks like it might be the most complete software rendition of a modern hardware Buchla module yet. And it’s got a price to match – US$99, so oddly just one module model costs you the same range as a lot of full-blown software modules. (US$79 intro price through end of October.)

What you get is one of the more interesting modules around, though – digital waveshaping and deep modulation. I’ll let them describe:

The 259e consists of two separate oscillators—Principal and Modulation—where Modulation can be used either to modulate the Principal oscillator or as a separate generator of audible notes. Furthermore, the sine wave generated by the Principal oscillator is simultaneously applied to two of the eight available waveshape tables. A morph voltage pans between the two tables and a warp voltage varies the amplitude of the sinusoidal (driving) waveform. Both these functions can be modulated by the Modulation oscillator. Three of the waveshape tables are actually not tables in the classical sense—they are simply portions of the 259e operating program, full of unpredictable noise and frequent silences. This is the innovative Mem Skew mode, possibly the most unique feature of the Buchla 259e. When these tables are selected, the FM controls are re-assigned to table scanning functions and the FM inputs become table modulators.

In short, while the Buchla 259e can certainly be used for more traditional sounds, it excels at creating otherworldly twisted digital sonic landscapes. Which is why it is one of the most coveted synth modules on the market.

Why is this man smiling? Softube tapped Buchla engineer Todd Barton to work on this recreation.

Video intro:


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macOS High Sierra upgrade requires some caution

macOS High Sierra (10.13) is out today. And that means it’s time to check in on compatibility with all your gear.

High Sierra is mostly about under-the-hood changes, and what Apple promises will be some forward-looking architectural improvements. There’s a new high-performance 64-bit Apple File System, intended for those internal flash drives. There are major changes to graphics support, dealing with the GPU and Apple’s own Metal API – though no indication that has any particular implications for music and media just yet so much as in the future. Virtual Reality support, long possible on Windows, is coming to the Mac – well, sort of, in that you’ll need an iMac Pro or a pricey external GPU. But what most users will see right now is the usual bundle of minor refinements and usability features.

No, usually what this means – especially for the complex ecosystem of tools in music – is checking to see if anything breaks. And for once, this appears to be a relatively trouble-free update if you’re on the latest version of software.

Changes to the file system, though, mean some caution is warranted.

Here are some early reports. If you’ve got more to add, either as a developer or user, get in touch (comments on this post or Twitter are probably easiest).

One piece of advice: update your drivers before updating, as the only real wrinkle appears to be driver installation related.

Driver vendors need to catch up on validating their drivers, as reported by Serato.

Serato users are advised to hold off; Serato have a blog entry explaining. The culprit is a driver installation issue.

The latest AIR Music Tech plug-ins all work; see knowledge base story

New versions of Propellerhead Software work; old versions, though, don’t. (Think file damage with that new file system – danger, Will Robinson.) Reason 9.5.2, Reason 10, Reason Essentials 9.5.2, Reason Essentials 10 are all good, so just watch older versions. Here’s their statement:

Due to Apple’s introduction of a completely new file system (APFS) in High Sierra, many older versions are not compatible. This means that Propellerhead products before Reason 9.5.2 will not work correctly after updating to the latest version of macOS. Using High Sierra may in some cases even damage your documents, rendering them unusable.

We strongly recommend you NOT to upgrade to High Sierra if you intend to use earlier versions of Propellerhead products on your computer.

Most Akai Professional products are supported; there’s a blog post covering both macOS High Sierra and iOS 11.

Traktor Pro has an update now in beta; 2.11.1 is now in release candidate so I’d wait for that to appear as an update before upgrading the OS. There’s a public beta available.

We’ll add to this story as we get more reports.

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Now a DAW does pitch and time shifts the way you wish it would

If the last generation of production software was about UI, workflow, and add-on extras, the next generation may be about science. Witness MOTU’s DP 9.5.

DP, aka Digital Performer, is that DAW everyone forgets about, but really shouldn’t. Now on both Windows and Mac, and a long-time staple of hard-core niches like the TV scoring business, DP has quietly added all the stuff that makes using a DAW better, without too much extra stuffing, often advancing without any hype past other rivals in key areas.

But even doing that, it’s hard for a DAW to stand out.

So, how about this: how about if a DAW let you manipulate time and pitch in a way that sounded less artificial? Wouldn’t that be a reason to use it?

And while various DAWs have licensed technology for improving time and pitch stretching, most of them still sound, well, pretty crap – especially if you go beyond small changes. (That hasn’t stopped me from using the artifacts creatively, but then the problem is, even those results tend to sound too much alike.)

So, the pairing of Zynaptiq with MOTU gets pretty interesting.

Zynaptiq is one of a handful of developers working on brain-bending DSP science to achieve sonic effects you haven’t heard before. (For some reason, a lot of these players seem to be in Germany … or Cambridge, Massachusetts. The latter is an MIT thing; the former, a German thing? Zynaptiq is out of Hannover.)

In the case of Zynaptiq, “artificial intelligence” and machine learning meet new advances in DSP. Whatever’s going on there (and I hope to cover that more), the results sound really extraordinary. Every time I’ve been at a trade show where the developer was exhibiting, people would grab you by the arms and say, have you heard the crazy stuff they’re doing it sounds like the future. That was aided by a unique demo style.

But there’s a big leap when you can integrate that kind of capability into a DAW and its existing workflow, without all the weird extra steps required to go back and forth to a plug-in.

And that’s what DP 9.5 does – in an update that’s free for all existing users, adding Zynaptiq’s ZTX PRO tech.

You get time stretching everywhere, so speeding up and slowing down by small increments or huge sounds natural. And they’ve done a bunch of work so you can change tempo adjustments and conductor tempo maps – which was always, always one of the best features of DP. (I was at the Aspen Music Festival in the late 90s listening to a film composer show off how easy scoring with DP markers was, fully two decades ago. Two decades later, the competition still hasn’t caught up, and DP has continued to expand on that feature.)

Plus you get pitch shifting and relative pitch editing, as you’ve seen with products like Celemony, but far more deeply integrated in the DAW and with (to my ear) better-sounding results. So yes, that does pitch shifting and pitch correction, but it also opens up some really interesting creative possibilities. This isn’t just about making bad singers sound better; it could be a boon to creative editing. (I just spent the last weekend poking around in Logic’s archaic and dated implementation for the heck of it, not knowing DP 9.5 was coming and… well, just no.)

There are “quality” presets, too, to help you find the right settings.

Have a listen in the demos. Here’s pitch shifting:

And here’s time shifting:

And from the ever-lovely Gotye (really nice chap with a terrifically nice band and some great producers, I have to say, just because I like nice people), some other examples:

Unrelated to all this, 9.5 also has a window that makes it easier to monitor processing load, so you can identify CPU hogs. (Heck, that may mean DP is now part of my standard test suite for plug-ins.) This combines with other unique performance management features in DP, like “pre-gen” capability, which eases the load on your CPU by pre-rendering audio.

Good stuff. More from MOTU:

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Going deep in techno technique and technology with Denmark’s CTRLS

Keep techno nerdy? We go in the studio to find out how Copenhagen’s CTRLS [Token] has developed his own sound, and how it relates to the tech he uses.

Away from the whims of techno fashion and its potential for cookie-cutter aesthetic chasing, there are cats like CTRLS, aka Troels Knudsen of Copenhagen. With some nine EPs to his name, he’s been steadily honing a craft – one with roots back in 90s trackers. In other words, he’s just the person to ask about process, because his sound is built from inside out instead of outside in.

And Routing is a song of experience – never overcomplicated, always clear, always groovy. You know, smart. And from that foundation, it gets to be weird and original. This is Troels who loves sounds making sounds you’ll love.

It’s also label Token Records (led by artist Kr!z) at its best. I thought Danish rush hours involved bicycles or something, so I suspect Troels secretly lives in the future. “Rush Hour” has a timeless groove going:

“Crash” is also heavy and grimy, with an off-kilter gesture that makes it keep falling forward, like some more industrial take on those Drinking Bird toys:

“Highway”‘s glitchy, weird noise percussion takes on this 90s IDM feel, but perfectly mixed I think and with a sense of both space and friendly shuffle:

“The Shortest Path” comes closer to what you might associate with the Token sound, but places it in Troels’ sense of wit and charm – at just a moment when the “serious” European techno scene threatens to get incurably gloomy:

(Also welcome: when you buy the album, you get “locked grooves” to use as DJ tools – leaving the tracks themselves to be more headphone-listening friendly.)

An older release, but I really love the concept, sound, and video (a reactive visual installation by Rune Abro & Yonathan Sonntag) – check out “Incoming Data” from 2015, also on Token:

So with that in mind, I got a chance to give us a look inside his studio and tools. And I was curious how that path led from machine to musical voice, from esoteric tracker knowledge to Internet-enabled music culture, because it speaks I think to other musicians, too.

Of course, for all that Internet power, I’m indebted to another obsessively hard-working Copenhagen techno talent, Anastasia Kristensen, for connecting me with Troels. I’ll say this about both Anastasia and Troels: these are people who are disciplined, and whose discipline then enables them to really play.

First off, your work is full of detailed rhythms and a wide sonic palette. What are you working with, in terms of vocabulary? How does your technology impact that vocabulary?

I spent a couple of years taking keyboard and piano lessons and I’ve got a bit of academic audio engineering under my belt, as well as the experience I’ve got from my part-time mix work. In general, I guess I’ve become the guy people ask for technical solutions, locally, so there’s rarely a mix issue I can’t work my way around these days. Everything else has been uncovered on the Web and by generally making sure I have some skilled people in my circle. Learning synths and sound design has been a very personal journey — as it should be, if you ask me — and I came out the other side as a bit of a synth nerd. I generally like to be a bit effective about it all, as well as understanding what I’m working with. So that combined with me being naturally curious tends to lead me towards more modern techniques and gear.

I also had some great mentors that showed me a lot of interesting things like polymeters, but other then fun tricks like that, I don’t tend to get too deep into music theory with Ctrls tracks. For example, scales feel a bit restrictive in that context.

Take us back a little bit. I know a lot of our most avid audience are deeply rooted tracker and demoscene and the sort of IDM niche communities of the Internet … some of them back to the early BBS days. At what point did you get your feet wet in that Internet world?

A friend introduced me to the tracker scene in the mid 90s. The BBS scene was still alive at the time, and I don’t think many artists in Denmark realized that trackers were, as such, fully fledged samplers. Also, the modules were wide open: sounds and techniques were right there to learn from. Today, people would kill to look into their heroes’ projects, but that was normal for us. Ed.: That was certainly the response recently to Aphex Twin showing off tracker secrets.

And it’s information that wasn’t really available in any books. When I made my way onto the actual Web, it was even easier to access. For a while, that was my main inspiration and I’d look to new tracker releases more then I would commercial releases. I also remember my music teacher being shocked when I showed him Fast Tracker 2 compared to the thousands of euros he had recommended me to spend on hardware samplers and synths.

I still sometimes try to think back to how I’d solve problems or how the tracker artists had their workarounds. For example, you didn’t have any swing/groove control in Fast Tracker 2; instead, you had to manually delay every second 16th with a command, throughout the entire track. It felt very empowering and inspiring, but that being said, I don’t want to go back to hex note editing and automation ever again.

Did it make a difference, having that more international, Internet-driven culture at your fingertips, coming from Denmark?

The internet made a huge difference for me when I started. We were into bass music at the time and were finding the UK scene ridiculously hard to break into. Granted, the vibe is more open and international in Europe, but the UK labels at the time had no faith in producers not from there. But through the net, I had access to a much deeper network then you were likely to find just by partying and traveling to London, and so I got one of the first (maybe the very first) proper Danish drum’n’bass releases off the back of that. Other then that, it is of course extremely convenient to be close to some of the most significant scenes, but it took a long time for it to properly rub off on traditional and conservative little Denmark.

What was your first encounter then with making music with machines?

A couple years of piano and keyboard lessons and I headed straight for computer sequencers. I was lucky to have a music teacher that really encouraged my curiosity for technology and production. My first tunes were done with an old Roland arranger keyboard, [Creative Labs] SoundBlaster 16 and a Windows 3.11 sequencer called Musicator, that used staff notes instead of piano roll. [These tunes] were recorded (mixed down is too generous) onto cassette. Then trackers and samplers came into my life, and things got a lot easier.

Now, there are some pretty quirky vibes on this latest Token outing. What’s the spirit of this record; where did you draw that inspiration from?

I just don’t want to sound like everybody else, and I guess my palette has evolved around that ethos. I definitely have a thing for very mechanical and futuristic (to my mind) grooves, but I spend a whole bunch of time trying to make sure that the sounds have a realistic quality to them, even though they’re likely to never occur in nature –
particularly sounds that resemble the human voice is something I seem to steer towards.

How did you set up the album conceptually – particularly the flow, as far as lengths, grooves, and so on?

It was actually set up to be a fairly straight club record with variety spread out across the tracks, especially as far as intensity and rhythms go.

In general, I tend to focus more on what I don’t want a record to do and how I avoid those things while still making high quality dance music. Things come together much easier for me that way. There’s a traffic theme to the whole thing simply because I’m looking to make things move, within my self-defined futurism framework.

What will we find in your studio now; what machines are currently meaningful to your music?

Right now, the centerpieces are a [Mutable Instruments] Ambika [synth] and my LXR drum machine going into Rostec preamps and converters. They’re very versatile instruments and most of the new Ctrls tracks are sourced just from those two with all sequencing, effects and processing running off the computer. I’m really into Unfiltered Audio plug-ins for processing lately. They seem to be some of the ones that gets the closest to nice digital hardware boxes, in terms of anti aliasing and overall definition. There’s nothing like a processor that can turn a sound completely on its head and still sound good. I do still use a few VST synths, mostly u-he zebra2 and bazille.

[Ed.: The Ambika is now no longer made by Mutable Instruments, but as it’s open source hardware, it lives on as a DIY project maintained elsewhere.]

The most esoteric piece is an old Kurzweil K2000 [sampler], which sounds absolutely phenomenal. It’s got this magic ratio of grit and definition and depth that you just don’t find in most modern instruments straight out of the box. Being an early 90s digital workstation it is a nightmare to program, so it’s not made it on to a lot of Ctrls tracks because of that, but I’m still keeping it until it breaks and I can’t get it fixed anymore. I’ve not heard any plug-in that gets even close for strings, textures, and atmospherics. If your voicing is good, it just blends straight into the track without any processing. It’s one of those pieces that can make you think the developers’ industry aren’t being half as ambitious as they should be. Ed.: This is an interesting point here – apart from making me feel a little old now that the K2000 and 1990s are vintage or esoteric. I suspect details of Kurzweil’s architecture as well as good sound design and preset voicing, so readers, feel free to discuss in comments.

The most important kit is probably the monitors. I’m working with a customized set of small speakers that, to my ears, outperform other brands in the same price range I spent on them. Most important being that they’re not fatiguing, so I can work on them all day. If you’re mostly in the box, I think a good monitoring situation makes things a lot easier, and customizing can make that much more affordable as you’re not dealing with mass production issues but can just focus on pure quality and omit a lot of the compromises. Also, should they break I can have ‘em up and running again the same day. In general, most things in my studio can be fixed without having to be shipped off.

I really like that your live approach feels really improvisational. And it’s very digital. How do you set up your live set? How do you relate it to track ideas without, you know, getting stuck playing tracks?

I’ve been through a bunch of iterations: prototypes running everything live off VSTs, just DJing my own material, bit of hardware, just Ableton and controllers etc. Right now, I’ve basically set Ableton up to be an extended version of Traktor [DJ] to play loops and use effects along with jamming on the LXR [drum machine]. I also drag my nice converters out to make absolutely sure that if the system is great, I’ll be able to take full advantage. Going through a preset playlist was never that attractive to me; it gets old so quickly. And Ableton being Ableton, it does require some engineering work to get it to sound like a DJ set with mastered material. But with that out of the way, I can really relax on stage and just vibe.

Inside the CTRLS live set – simple, but with stuff to control.

As for being stuck playing tracks — it’s pretty important to realize that your recorded music is what most people go to see you for, or at least that seems to be the case with me. And to a point you can have a more profound impact if there’s that connection of elements that the crowd can recognize.

I learned this after my laptop almost died right before a Berghain live set. I had to dj my own tunes off my iPad, and somehow got a bit of LXR going on top. It felt a bit underwhelming to execute after all the preparation I’d done but nobody noticed anything, the set got a great reaction and I got a bunch of compliments for my poker face. So, after that I started to tweak the setup to capture that feeling but still provide something people wouldn’t have heard before.

I STRONGLY advise all live performers to have a simple plan b, and not just give up if something goes wrong. It takes away a monumental amount of stress and disappointment if your setup is very complex.

Okay, interesting. And yes, I love redundancy. Actually, maybe the fact that I got the improv bit wrong says something – I thought it was improvised, but in fact preparing the tracks in this case allowed more play on top, which can also be useful. I see you’re making use of the Livid BASE controller, too; how do you have that mapped?

It’s basically set up to be an audio mixer: four track/loop channels with three effects sends and a looper with adjustable length, and the rest to level the LXR voices as well as a few custom parameters controlling plug-ins that are processing the drum machine.

What’s exciting you now as far as what you listen to? It seems techno is fairly focused in the moment on a small circle of people as far as innovation in elements like timbre, within some particular constraints. Without getting too far into name dropping, what do you feel is important to you? Is this a genre that’s moving forward, in regards to those artists?

Yes, it’s definitely moving forward, although it is a pretty narrow field of producers actually pushing the envelope. But I don’t think it needs to stop within the constraints you mention. It’s such a wide-open field right now as there’s a bunch of cross-pollination going into electro, noise, bass music. and lately oldschool trance. That openness is one of the main things that attracted me to techno in the first place. Especially as an artist myself it’s very inviting that you can take that attitude and latch it onto pretty much any sound palette.

In general, I just really appreciate creative and expressive sound design married with great music. It’s one of the main characteristics that keep the genre very fresh for me, personally. Historically and as far as innovation goes, there’s so much more to techno then the Roland TR boxes [808, 909, etc.] and their inherent workflows. I really appreciate artists (new and old) that have the imagination to step out of that “loop,” or bend it to their will.

I’m trying to be very aware of not conditioning myself into a total music geek with no sense for naivety. But by now I don’t think it’s disputable that technology, and how involved people get with it, plays a massive role in how the genre’s evolving, so I equally try to maintain my curiosity about new sounds, performance types and contexts. The music obviously comes first, but no one’s been able to offer me a good explanation of where that ends and the noise starts. So I think there’s plenty of reasons to keep exploring and to stay curious.

From the always-excellent Deep Space Helsinki, here you get a mix with his inspirations in mind:

And the release:

Follow him here:

Studio photos: Rune Abro.

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Syntronik is the new monster softsynth from IK; hear from its creator

IK Multimedia’s all-new Syntronik isn’t just one vintage synth – it’s up to 38 of those, plus loads of filters and effects, in one plug-in package.

This isn’t the first time IK has offered this sort of “models of everything” approach. But this time, there’s a ground-up approach to modeling original analog circuits, combined with sampling – new engine, new presets. And since there’s a free version, you don’t have to be afraid of commitment before you test drive.

That technological explanation alone doesn’t say that much, though. Part of what makes any synth playable – whether that instrument is analog or digital, hardware or software – is the humans who worked on it.

Erik Norlander, one of the lead sound designers of Syntronik project, makes a particularly special sound programmer. Norlander was the lead on the legendary, multitimbral Alesis Andromeda. When it was released in 2000, analog had largely been abandoned by the mass market – this is two years before even the Minimoog Voyager. In fact, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say the Andromeda was the instrument that changed the course of the industry (well, changed it back again, that is). Unique analog sounds and hands-on controls (rather than digital sound and menu diving) were finally back in the game, paired with a more modern architecture and pitch correction.

That is, even if the Andromeda doesn’t trigger warm, fuzzy feelings, you can thank it at least in part for a lot of the character of synths today.

I’ll even forgive Erik some bias and sales jargon here, because he’s got some points about the IK offering. To find out what he has to say, we’re going to try something different. Norlander and IK talked first to Japan’s IKON Magazine. Here, we have an edited, English-language edition of that interview.

This is an experiment for us, but hopefully allows us to share more content with our friends in Japan at ICON. (The original is at bottom, if you do speak Japanese.)

Erik Norlander. (Photo: Erik Nielsen.)

Full list of synths:

Modular Moog, Minimoog Model D, Moog Voyager, Moog Taurus I, Moog Taurus II, Moog Taurus 3, Polymoog, Moog Opus 3, Moog Rogue, Realistic Concertmate MG-1, Multimoog, Micromoog, Moog Prodigy, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, Sequential Circuits Prophet-10, ARP 2600, Oberheim SEM, Oberheim OB-X, Oberheim OB-Xa, Yamaha CS-80, Yamaha GX-1, Yamaha CS-01II, Yamaha SY99, Roland Juno-60, Roland Jupiter-8, Roland Jupiter-6, Roland Jupiter-4, Roland JX-10, Roland JX-8P, Roland JX-3P, Roland TB-303 Bassline, Alesis Andromeda, PPG Wave 2.3, ARP String Ensemble, Elka Rhapsody 490, Hohner String Performer, Roland RS-505 Paraphonic & Roland RS-09 Organ/Strings

CDM English-language article

ICON: Why did you choose to release a vintage synthesizer and string machine instrument as the first virtual instrument after MODO BASS?

Erik Norlander (EN): We want to be the total solution for virtual instruments. To reach this goal, IK has created major updates to our instrument product line, starting with SampleTank 3 in 2014. We released several SampleTank Custom Shop Instrument Collections after this, including the spectacular Cinematic Percussion and Brandenburg Piano. Then we released Miroslav Philharmonik 2, our orchestral / symphonic virtual instrument recording in Prague, along with the follow-on Orchestral Percussion Instrument Collection, recorded in Hollywood, California. MODO Bass is a brilliant product that had been in the works for many years, while developing this amazing new modeling technology.

So, we have covered most acoustic instruments with SampleTank 3, Miroslav Philharmonik and the Custom Shop Instrument Collections, and electric bass with MODO Bass. The next logical step was a synthesizer product to provide our users with the best electronic sounds available. Rather than simply update SampleMoog or Sonik Synth, we took a different approach and made a completely new and far more extensive instrument called Syntronik. Syntronik combines the best of sampling and modeling to recreate our favorite classic synthesizers and take them even farther.

ICON: IK Multimedia has been selling vintage synthesizer instruments like SampleMoog. What are the main differences between Syntronik and those vintage synthesizer instruments released in the past?

EN: First, we should establish that Syntronik is not just a vintage synthesizer instrument. Of course you can get all of the vintage sounds, but Syntronik is a modern instrument intended for creating all kinds of music, including the latest cutting-edge pop and electronica. We have sampled 38 timeless, classic instruments that form the foundation of Syntronik, and then those get processed by our amazing IK modeling technology which includes both classic filter emulations and modern digital filters. Our new DRIFT algorithm adds life to our samples in a truly animated and compelling approach.

We add to this an engineer’s dream collection of effects, including models of the famous Pultec, Urei, Teletronix, Fairchild EQs and limiters, guitar amps and modulation effects including our new Ensemble effect modeled especially for Syntronik. This one recreates the beautiful analog chorus-ensemble effects of the famous ARP String Ensemble, Roland Juno-60 and Roland string machines such as the RS-505 Paraphonic Ensemble. All of this puts Syntronik light years ahead of our past synthesizer products.

IKON: Syntronik is using sampling technology, apart from the modeling of filters and effects. Why didn’t you make it by 100% modeling like MODO BASS?

EN: IK is a leader in both sampling and modeling, and we chose to use the best of both worlds for Syntronik. We have found that the best way to truly capture and recreate the sound of classic analog hardware is to sample it using our finely-tuned recording techniques and editing workflow that has been developed over decades. Modeling can give you more flexibility in some cases, but there is nothing like hearing an audiophile sample of the actual instrument. When you hear our samples of the Oberheim OB-X, it really sounds just like an Oberheim OB-X. Because it is an OB-X. The tone is undeniable. Our DRIFT algorithm removes many of the limitations of sample playback, and the modeled filters and effects add a further dimension.

IKON: How did you choose 38 instruments? Do we have a plan to expand it with more instruments?

EN: We started with the ten most famous classic synthesizers, the Minimoog, the Prophet-5, the CS-80, the SEM, etc. and then we expanded on that base to add related instruments like the Multimoog, Micromoog, Prodigy, Rogue and similar synths that are less known but still sound amazing. In the case of our String Box synth, we started with the most famous string machine, the ARP String Ensemble. Then we expanded that synth with other great string machines, like the Roland RS-505 and RS-09, the Elka Rhapsody, Hohner String Performer, and Univox Multiman, which is a variant of the famous Crumar Orchestrator. We started out with a smaller set, but we just kept adding synths because they sounded so great, and it made sense in the context of the product.

IKON: How did you have those 38 instruments themselves? Were they owned by IK? Or are some of them rented from someone?

EN: I own most of the hardware instruments as you can see in the photo on our Syntronik product page on the IK web site. I sampled a few rarities like the Yamaha GX-1 and then the tiny CS-01 (incidentally, the biggest and smallest synths in the collection!) during other sessions over the years when I could find the opportunity.

IKON: Are all samples included in Syntronik new? Or are you using some samples from previous products like SampleMoog?

EN: 98% of the samples are new. We included some legacy sounds from SampleMoog that I recorded several years ago that we felt were good enough to include in Syntronik. And in some cases, we even went back to the original recording sessions of the SampleMoog material and made larger versions of the keymaps.

IKON: What is the bit depth / sample resolution, — bits/–kHz? Are you using Pro Tools | HDX to record those samples? Could you also tell us which A/D converter are you using?

EN: All of the samples were recorded into MOTU Digital Performer, and the original sessions were done at the highest resolution available. Some downsampling was done in some cases to create more manageable file sizes, where there was no perceivable audio quality loss. In the case of bit depth, in general, the looped, sustaining samples are at 16-bit, since they do not have more amplitude resolution than that and it would be a waste of disk space and memory to keep all 24 bits of data. Our Syntronik internal audio path is 32-bit, so our envelopes have more dynamic range than any DAC can even reproduce! So when our envelopes decay a looped sample to silence, it is with extreme dynamic resolution. Then for the samples that decay to silence, we kept them at 24-bit to preserve the full dynamic range of the sampled analog decays.

IKON: Please explain what is the Drift technology.

EN: DRIFT is a very sophisticated algorithm that the IK team developed after over a year of transcontinental discussions. We debated what it should do, what it should not do, how to do it, and how not to do it. DRIFT modulates multiple aspects of the sound to authentically recreate the behavior of free running oscillators.

On an analog synth, the oscillators are running all the time. It is the envelope that gates them on and off. So unlike a digital sample, the waveform does not always start at a zero crossing. The synth envelope will often catch the wave in the middle or somewhere else in its cycle. Simple sample start point modulation doesn’t quite work for this, because you get clicks when a sample starts far away from its zero crossing, so some kind of smoothing is necessary to recreate the rise time of an analog VCA. Then there’s the famous pitch drifting of analog oscillators that cannot be duplicated by a simple LFO. So using everything we know about sampling and modeling, we came up with an algorithm that combines multiple treatments to a sample to give it the organic life and animation of an analog oscillator. It’s proprietary technology, so I can’t go into more detail than that. But suffice it to say, it sounds amazing.

IKON: When did you start developing Syntronik? What are the biggest challenges to finish making it?

EN: It took less than a year from the time we conceived the product to the time it was released. But we’re building on 20 years of IK Multimedia technology, so we had some pretty amazing resources at our disposal. In this sense, it was not like starting from zero. And many of the samples come from a private, unreleased library that I have been crafting over many years. I was looking for the best time and platform to release the the library, and Syntronik is it.

IKON: There are many virtual instruments of vintage synthesizers in the market. What are the main advantage of Syntronik over those products?

EN: There are so many excellent virtual synthesizers. We love the Spectrasonics, Arturia and UVI products, and so many others. But comparing Syntronik to these is like comparing a Ferrari to a Porsche, or comparing a California Cabernet to an Italian Barbera. They are different approaches borne from different visions and different inspirations. We set out to capture the feel, the style, the essence of our favorite classic synthesizers with a specific sonic intention and present them in a powerful, easy-to-use virtual instrument that would put the real sound of 38 amazing instruments at your fingertips. I really think we achieved that.

IKON: Propellerhead announced to stop selling ReBirth-338 due to some intellectual property issues. We see the names of synthesizers in Syntronik pages. Aren’t you worried about the intellectual property issues?

EN: We are tremendously respectful of the original hardware manufacturers. Moog Music has of course been a partner with us in the past, and we have the highest regard for them as well as Roland, Yamaha, Dave Smith and Sequential, Tom Oberheim and his companies, Wolfgang Palm and PPG, and all the rest. I was the original product manager for the Alesis Andromeda hardware synth, so naturally I have tremendous respect for that brand and product. Our GUIs are all homages to these great hardware synths. They provide visual elements that harken back to the originals and give you the feeling of those great hardware instruments, but they are most definitely not copies of the original designs. And you will never see us using the term “Jupiter” or “Juno” in the product. We have also been very thorough with our legal disclaimers to state who owns which trademark and to clarify non-affiliation when appropriate.

IKON: What’s behind the name Syntronik?

EN: It is the logical next step from our “Philharmonik” product. Both of these instruments end in “ik” which of course is a reference to IK Multimedia. So Philharmonik is the orchestral instrument, and Syntronik is the electronic instrument. Who knows, there may be more of this theme to explore. And in the case of the “Syn” part, this very much follows Bob Moog’s excellent definition of synthesis meaning simply “many parts.” In our case, the “many parts” are the samples, the modeling, the effects and the super-user-friendly graphical experience. “Syn” here does NOT imply “synthetic” — the opposite of organic — or “artificial” in any way. Syntronik is very much a living, breathing musical instrument full of expression and animation.

IKON: Syntronik can be used as SampleTank 3 expansion instruments. Do you have a plan to publish an open SDK so that third party developers can make SampleTank 3 instruments, Native Instruments KONTAKT and UVI Engine?

EN: We are discussing this, and there is a good possibility that we will open up the platform at some point.

IKON: Can you tell us a bit of the update roadmap of Syntronik?

EN: You can of course purchase the full version, which I recommend. The 17 synths in the product were all chosen to be complementary, and we don’t expect any one synth to provide every synth sound you would want.

But you can start with Syntronik Free which includes 50 instruments and 1GB of samples. It is truly free, and it is fully functional — there are no limitations in the functionality, it is only the samples and instrument count that is reduced. And the free version is pretty spectacular, I have to say! If anyone has any doubts about the product, please try the free version, which will give you a very good feeling of the full product. With the free version, you can purchase individual synths, any of the 17, and custom-build your own library. So, if you only are interested in Roland® TB-303-style synth bass sounds or Moog Taurus® pedal-like timbres, you can buy just the T-03 or Bully synths.

IKON: Lastly, please give us a message for IK Multimedia fans in Japan.

EN: Syntronik was a lot of work to create, and it required some very heavy lifting on every side, from the recording to the editing to the modeling to GUI developing to the coding. But it was an exciting and rewarding project, truly a labor of love for all involved. We have a really inspired vision for this product, and we can’t wait for our musicians friends in Japan to play our beautiful instrument. We look forward to hearing the wonderful music you will make with our instrument, and we hope that it inspires you as much as it has inspired us.

Photos: Erik Nielsen.

The post Syntronik is the new monster softsynth from IK; hear from its creator appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

With Japan’s latest Vocaloid characters, another song from the future

It’s a cyber-technological future you can live now: a plug-in using sophisticated samples and rules that can make a plug-in sing like a Japanese pop star.

Yamaha has announced this week the newest voices for Vocaloid, their virtual singing software. This time, the characters are drawn from a (PS Vita) Sony video game property:

The main characters of the PS Vita games Utagumi 575 and Miracle Girls Festival, as well as the anime Go! Go! 575, Azuki Masaoka (voice actress Yuka Ohtsubo), have finally been made into VOCALOID Voice Banks!


Here’s what those new characters sound like:

And the announcement:

Announcing the debut of two new female Japanese VOCALOID4 Voice Banks

The packs themselves run about 9000 Yen, or roughly 80 US Dollars.

Perhaps this is an excuse to step back and consider what this is about, again. (Well, I’m taking it as one.)

To the extent that pop music is always about making a human more than real, Japan embraces a hyperreal artificiality in their music culture, so it’s not surprising technology would follow. Even given that, it seems the success of Yamaha’s Vocaloid software caught the developers by surprise, as the tool earned a massive fanbase. And while extreme AutoTune effects have fallen out of favor in the west, it seems Japan hasn’t lost its appetite for this unique sound – nor the cult following of aficionados that has grown outside the country.

Vocaloid isn’t really robotic – it uses extensive, detailed samples of a real human singer – but the software is capable of pulling and stretching those samples in ways that defy the laws of human performance. That is, this is to singing as the drum machine is to drumming.

That said, if you go out and buy a conventional vocal sample library, the identities of the singers is relatively disguised. Not so, a Vocaloid sample bank. The fictional character is detailed down to her height in centimeters, her backstory … even her blood type. (Okay, if you know the blood type of a real pop star, that’s a little creepy – but somehow I can imagine fans of these fictional characters gladly donating blood if called upon to do so.)

Lest this all seem to be fantasy, equal attention is paid to the voice actors and their resume.

And the there’s the software. Vocaloid is one of the most complex virtual instruments on the market. There’s specific integration with Cubase, obviously owing to Yamaha’s relationship to Steinberg, but also having to do with the level of editing required to get precise control over Vocaloid’s output. And it is uniquely Japanese: while Yamaha has attempted to ship western voices, Japanese users have told me the whole architecture of Vocaloid is tailored to the particular nuances of Japanese inflection and pitch. Vocaloid is musical because the Japanese language is musical in such a particular way.

All of this has given rise to a music subculture built around the software and vocal characters that live atop the platform. That naturally brings us to Hatsune Miku, a fictional singer personality for Vocaloid whose very name is based on the words for “future” and “sound.” She’s one of a number of characters that have grown out of Vocaloid, but has seen the greatest cultural impact both inside and outside Japan.

Of course, ponder that for a second: something that shipped as a sound library product has taken on an imagined life as a pop star. There’s not really any other precedent for that in the history of electronic music … so far. No one has done a spinoff webisode series about the Chorus 1 preset from the KORG M1. (Yet. Please. Make that happen. You know it needs to.)

Hatsune Miku has a fanbase. She’s done packed, projected virtual concerts, via the old Pepper’s Ghost illusion (don’t call it a hologram).

And you get things like this:

Though with Hatsune Miku alone (let alone Vocaloid generally), you can go down a long, long, long rabbit hole of YouTube videos showing extraordinary range of this phenomenon, as character and as instrumentation.

In a western-Japanese collaboration, LaTurbo Avedon, Laurel Halo, Darren Johnston, Mari Matsutoya and Martin Sulzer (and other contributors) built their own operetta/audiovisual performance around Hatsune Miku, premiered as a joint presentation of CTM Festival and Transmediale here in Berlin in 2016. (I had the fortune of sitting next to a cosplaying German math teacher, a grown man who had convincingly made himself a physical manifestation of her illustrated persona – she sat on the edge of her seat enraptured by the work.)

I was particularly struck by Laurel Halo’s adept composition for Hatsune Miku – in turns lyrical and angular, informed by singing idiom and riding imagined breath, but subtly exploiting the technology’s potential. Sprechstimme and prosody for robots. Of all the various CTM/Transmediale commissions, this is music I’d want to return to. And that speaks to possibilities yet unrealized in the age of the electronic voice. (Our whole field, indeed, owes its path to the vocoder, to Daisy Bell, to the projected vocal quality of a Theremin or the monophonic song of a Moog.)

“Be Here Now” mixed interviews and documentary footage with spectacle and song; some in the audience failed to appreciate that blend, seen before in works like the Steve Reich/Beryl Korot opera The Cave. And some Hatsune Miku fans on the Internet took offense to their character being used in a way removed from her usual context, even though the license attached to her character provides for reuse. But I think the music holds up – and I personally equally enjoy this pop deconstruction as I do the tunes racking up the YouTube hits. See what you think:

All of this makes me want to revisit the Vocaloid software – perhaps a parallel review with a Japanese colleague. (Let’s see who’s up for it.)

After all, there’s no more human expression than singing – and no more emotional connection to what a machine is than when it sings, too.

More on the software, with an explanation of how it works (and why you’d want it, or not):

The post With Japan’s latest Vocaloid characters, another song from the future appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Audio Damage are bringing their plug-ins to iOS – and more

We’ve come a long way since the early days of apps on iOS, which brought a handful of interesting experimental noisemaker toys and some simple standalone tools. Now, you’ve got powerful DAWs, full-blown synths and effects – basically, the same sort of virtual studio you get on your desktop.

What you tend not to get is the selection of plug-in tools that would complete your desktop arsenal. And that’s too bad, both because it’d help you to finish tracks, and because plug-ins might be really useful in a live situation – even if you aren’t quite set to ditch the desktop/notebook in studio workflows.

Apple introduced Audio Units for iOS, bringing their desktop plug-in architecture to mobile, but developers haven’t been terribly quick to embrace it.

That makes it news that Audio Damage is making a big plug-in play. On Friday, Audio Damage rounded out their offering by adding Dubstation 2 to the list, following up Rough Rider 2 (compressor), Grind Distortion, and Eos 2 (reverb).

You can use these as plug-ins in other software (like Cubasis or Modstep), or fire them up standalone. And note that they’re significantly cheaper on iOS than desktop – $5 for most of these means you’re basically taking off a zero from the end.

Rough Rider is free on both desktop and mobile.

Audio Damage’s Chris Randall tells us he intends to port all your favorites over, instruments and effects alike. Next up: Phosphor, the alphaSyntauri clone.

You can also expect a couple of iOS exclusives.

With apps like AUM, AudioBus, and various live performance tools, iOS badly needs a tempo-synced live looper for live performance – and it seems we’ll get that from Audio Damage. That would be some terrific news for live iOS use, so you can bet we’ll be watching for this one, as looping is essential to how a whole lot of people play, irrespective of genre or instrument.

It’s also worth observing that Audio Damage’s path may be one for the future – modular hardware, desktop software (plug-ins), and mobile (plug-in/standalone) are all parallel pathways for development. That doesn’t mean every tool is in every place; that wouldn’t make much sense. But for something like the Eos reverb, you now see the same algorithms and code reused on all three. (Yes, Eos is Eurorack.)

There’s a lot on iOS to keep up with, of course, and watching the App Store every day is a chore.

If only there were a way to stay on top of the news.

If only…

Well, we can keep dreaming. And… you might… want to refresh CDM, too. Like, this week, for instance.

Here’s a look at those lovely interfaces, made with the care we’ve come to expect from Audio Damage:





Kudos to Chris for clever technology adoption, keeping quality high, and staying attuned to musicians’ needs – as well as remaining engaged with that community online.

The post Audio Damage are bringing their plug-ins to iOS – and more appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Audient Unveils ARC – The Creative Hub

Audient has teamed up with some of the industry’s leading innovators, including Eventide, Steinberg, LANDR and Producertech to offer a comprehensive

Cableguys are showing some amazing tips for their shaper plugins

Cablesguys are one of the more interesting purveyors of plug-ins out there, and they’ve been showing off some interesting stuff with their lineup.

These things can be a bit hard to describe, just in theory – okay, so you’ve got VolumeShaper and TimeShaper, which shape … volume .. and … time.

But in practice, you begin to see some really compelling possibilities coming out of this approach and user interface.

With VolumeShaper, one recent plug-in, you can take hi-hats out of an existing loop (meaning this is also a must-have plug-in for remixes, for example).

TimeShaper can be used for special effects, like faking vinyl scratch-style effects without using vinyl.

Their YouTube channel, fairly quiet for some time, has been popping with new plug-in tutorials. See here:

And you can try some free trials of each of these tools. I remember watching these developers way back with their first MidiShaper years ago. It’s great to see how they’ve evolved.


VolumeShaper 5


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