ShaderToy, which I also wrote about yesterday, is a free community site for exchanging shader code. That GLSL code requires some wrapper around it to use in visual tools. Enter the cross-platform ISF (Interactive Shader Format), which makes portability a bit easier in VJ apps like VDMX and MadMapper.
This selection began its life as some of the nicer examples on Shadertoy, then got ported for easier use.
There’s even a converter so you can try the same thing:
There’s just one catch – the Shadertoy code isn’t cleared for commercial use. And Creative Commons’ definition of “commercial” is so broad, almost any use where you’re earning money probably qualifies. Still, that leaves unpaid (cough) VJ gigs as well as gatherings and jam sessions and experimentation.
Or better yet, once you’ve exercised these tools a bit, you can have a look at the actual code in ISF format or on Shadertoy in GLSL (the GPU standard), and help learn how to write your own original creations. You probably don’t want to show up at the paid gig with effects everyone else is using, anyway.
In the meantime – let’s party in black and white.
In case you missed it, the Shadertoy Cybertruck I wrote about yesterday got posted in minutes, thanks to David from Vidvox:
Establishment Records on Bandcamp. All albums in our catalog are now 70% off through Monday evening. Plus look forward to new stuff from our spin-off record label in 2020 – some exciting plans in the works now. Enter code wearblack.
Everything at Reason Studios is on sale for what they call “Rack Friday,” with discounts on Reason (now with AU support on Mac!) and lots of Rack Extensions – up to 90% off. https://www.reasonstudios.com/shop/deals/ – through December 2.
Arturia’s V Collection 7, full of basically every software recreation of classic electronic instruments you could imagine, is down to 299 $/EUR, along with other upcoming Arturia deals to watch. Also, even something like this sounds cooler in French. Behold: Obtiens la V Collection pour une prix exclusif Jusqu’au 5 décembre 2019. Ne rate pas cette occasion. Obtiens-la pour 299$/EUR. Ah, we sounds so crass in English, by comparison. Touché . https://www.arturia.com/black-friday-19
iZotope has discounts on software plus their Spire Studio hardware. Probably best of these is the $49 bundle of Elements Suite, DDLY, Mobius Filter, and Trash 2. Everything is on sale, though. Also great – the Music Production site (with Ozone 9 Advanced, Neutron 3 Advanced, etc.) for $399 and the bargain-basement-priced, awesome-sounding, light-on-CPU PhoenixVerb for $39. Through 12/6.
puremagnetik’s unique collections of sounds and instruments are 50% through November 30, including some wonderful plugin instruments. Enter code BLACKFRIDAY19. Get a little granular after Thanksgiving dinner.
Eventide’s Anthology XI – the equivalent of a studio full of Eventide gear – is a full 75% off, for $499. That compares well to getting it via subscription, and it’s an outstanding deal. There’s also the excellent Elevate suite for 50% off. See the holiday sale page. Full disclosure: I live off the Anthology. The Eventide folder if it lived in the real world would have had its name worn off by now.
Time + Space have a rotating set of deals from a whole host of vendors. It may even be worth checking some of these deals versus the original developers.
On the same lines, pluginboutique.com have a bunch of deals on various vendors, and some of these discounts are exclusive, so comparison-shop if you’re stocking up. 50% off Softube or a stunning 80% off Soundtoys looks brilliant. On the Softube side, you can’t go wrong with the company’s amp simulations, for instance, and Modular add-ons are discounted, too. For Soundtoys, LittlePlate and EchoBoy Jr. are secret sauce for me, so I would absolutely endorse those two as they’re indispensible (or full EchoBoy for a little more).
Waves are letting you stock up with code BF50 at checkout, plus free plug-ins to choose when you spend more than $50.
Harrison’s new AVA plug-ins are 4-for-the-price-of-1, at $89 for the lot. See the AVA product page. These plug-ins I don’t know yet, but Harrison’s stuff typically sounds great.
Tracktion’s software is up to 65% off. That includes their DAWs, but also things like the MOK Waverazor and SpaceCraft instruments. Tons of inspiring stuff – code MIX2019 – through end of day December 4. https://www.tracktion.com
Cableguys do great stuff and they have their only sale of the year as this – “Until Cyber Monday, 2nd December 2019, the ShaperBox 2 Bundle of five powerful Cableguys effects – TimeShaper 2, VolumeShaper 6, FilterShaper Core 2, PanShaper 3, and WidthShaper 2 – is only €79 / $89. That’s a 50% saving compared to buying all five Shapers individually (€155 / $180).” https://www.cableguys.com/shaperbox.html
Also over in Riga, there’s the wonderful, independently-operated Gamechanger Audio. Their exceptionally unique Plus and Plasma pedals are 20% off, which is about as good a way to spend money as I can imagine. Check out their shop – https://www.gamechangeraudio.com/shop – through December 2. It’s a pretty big deal to do this as an independent maker, too – they admit they’re working 14-hour shifts to get the gear out – so do reward them!
Arturia hardware is on sale, so head into your local store (or order from them). That’s up to 50% off MiniBrute (and its rackable 2S sibling) and the unique DrumBrute. DrumBrute for 349 $/EUR is pretty astonishing and maybe reason to overlook even those remakes everyone else might be grabbing.
Sweetwater has $300 off that Solid State Logic SiX we’ve all been coveting. It’s still the most expensive compact mixer you can buy, but … well, it’s a little more tempting, and come on, it’s still a chance to own your own little SSL.
Sweetwater also has a bunch of Universal Audio bundles and deals on their site. But maybe best is –
Learning TouchDesigner? Stanislav Glazov has his superb tutorials on sale. 30 % Discount for all TouchDesigner Courses till 3rd of December. Use promocode 3DOFF at https://lichtpfad.selz.com/
garageCube are again celebrating “Mad Week” with 20% off software and 10% off hardware. Head to https://www.garagecube.com/product/ through December 2. This includes upgrade discounts, so it’s worth checking even if you’re already a customer.
Big Semantica Records fan, and they’re 30% off with code blackfriday2019 on Bandcamp.
The volunteer-run Ubuntu Studio isn’t just a great Linux distribution for beginners wanting to make music, visuals, and media. It’s a solid alternative to Mac and Windows you can easily dual boot.
Ubuntu Studio for a while had gone semi-dormant for a while; open source projects need that volunteer support to thrive. But starting around 2018, it saw renewed interest. (Uh, maybe frustrations with certain mainstream OSes even helped.)
And that’s important for the Linux ecosystem at large. Ubuntu remains the OS distribution most targeted by mainstream developers and most focused on easy end user operation. That’s not to say it’s the best distro for you – part of the beauty of Linux is the endless choice it affords, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. But because some package management focuses on Ubuntu (and Debian), because it’s the platform where a lot of the action is as far as consumer desktop OS features, and just because so many beginners are on the platform, it matters. Heck, you can usually get more novice-friendly advice just by Googling a problem and adding the word “Ubuntu” on the end.
But that’s all what you’d hope Ubuntu Studio would be. Let’s talk about what it is – because the latest distro release looks really terrific.
Ubuntu Studio 19.10 dropped last month. For those unOS familiar with Ubuntu – look closely at those numbers – that’s October 2019. Ubuntu alternates between long-term support (LTS) releases and more frequent releases with newer features. Crucially, the Ubuntu Studio team now add “backports” though so that you can use the newer packages on the LTS release – so you don’t have to constantly upgrade your OS just to get the latest features.
If you don’t mind doing the distro update, though, 19.10 has some really terrific features. I also have to say, as a musician the other appeal to me of Linux is, I can still use my main OS as the day-to-day OS, loaded down with lots of software and focusing on things like battery life, while maintaining a dual boot Linux OS both as a backup OS for live use and one I can optimize for low-latency performance. Now that Bitwig Studio, Renoise, VCV Rack, Pure Data, SuperCollider, and lots of other cool software to play live all run on Linux, that’s no small matter. (For visuals, think Blender, game engines, and custom code.)
New in this version:
OBS Studio is pre-configured right out of the box, for live streaming and screencasting.
There are tons of plug-ins ready-to use. 100 plug-ins were added to this release, on top of the ones already available. There are LADSPA, LV2, and VST plug-ins, and extensive support even for Window VSTs. For now, you even get 32-bit plug-in support, so using one of the LTS releases for backwards compatibility on a studio machine is a good idea.
Oh yeah, and while you should definitely move to 64-bit, plug-in developers – targeting Linux now makes sense, without question. And Ubuntu Studio would be a logical distro against which to test or even provide support.
RaySession now makes handling audio sessions for apps easier.
Ubuntu Studio Controls is improved. This won’t make sense to Linux newcomers, but especially for those of you who tried Ubuntu in the past and maybe even got frustrated – Ubuntu Studio has done a lot of work here. Ubuntu Studio Controls and the pre-configured OS now make things work sensibly out of the box, with powerful controls for tweaking things as you need. And yeah, this was indeed sometimes not the case in the past. The trick with Linux – ironically just as on Windows and sometimes even macOS – is that different applications have competing needs for what audio has to do. Ubuntu Studio does a good job of juggling the consumer audio needs with high-performance inter-app audio and multichannel audio we need for our music stuff.
Anyway, new in this build:
Now includes an indicator to show whether or not Jack is running
Added Jack backend selections: Firewire, ALSA, or Dummy (used for testing configurations)
Added convenient buttons for starting other configuration tools
That’s just a quick look; you can read the release notes:
I’m installing 19.10 (rather than LTS and backports, though I might do that on an extra machine), as I’m in a little lull between touring. VCV Rack is part of my live rig, as is SuperCollider or Pd for more experimental gigs, so you can bet I’m interested here. I’ll be sure to share how this works and provide a beginner-friendly guide.
I’ve done the deep dive. Here’s the easy explanation of why it’s too soon to upgrade to macOS Catalina – either if you’re pressed for time, or to forward to your friends.
macOS Catalina will break some music and visual software and hardware, because of changes to backward compatibility and some major new security features never before seen on a desktop OS.
The question is whether you want to find the incompatibilities and bugs yourself, or wait a while and let someone else do it for you.
Also, there is no reason to upgrade right now. Features like Sidecar, letting you use Apple Pencil and iPad as a second display/input device, are available elsewhere. (Try Duet. Or upgrade to Mojave if you haven’t already.)
So the fact I see people rushing to upgrade tells me they don’t understand why it’s a bad idea. Here’s why it’s a bad idea.
What could go wrong if you upgrade too soon
Some software won’t launch. Just one 32-bit dependency can break software like DAWs from launching. There is a tool that checks for whether apps are entirely 32-bit called Go64. But many DAWs and notation tools, for example, do require updates even to what could be labeled a 64-bit version.
DAWs will require an update before they work with plug-ins. Security changes mean that DAWs need to be specifically updated for Catalina in order to work. Check with your DAW maker. Ableton Live 10 in its latest, Catalina-specific release work, as does Apple’s own Logic Pro X. Many popular DAWs don’t have updates, and won’t until later in October (or even beyond that). And just because a DAW says it’s updated is not a 100% guarantee on your specific system, because —
Plug-ins and other tools may behave in unexpected ways. New macOS features for providing security permissions haven’t been tested in every combination yet. And new security requirements can also mess with software in obscure ways, because some of the things we do in music and visuals interact with input hardware (like keyboards and mice). Developers tell me this can cause unexpected behaviors – think bugs or even crashes with certain plug-ins or other tools. If you update today, you’re the one testing some of these combinations, even if you think your software is up to date. If you wait, you can let developers test it for you.
Some installers won’t work. A lot of older installers and uninstallers are 32-bit, not 64-bit. So if you update a system, then decide to install a plug-in or driver you forgot, you may hit a hard wall. If these are not actively supported devices or plug-ins, you may be unable to use them without rolling back the OS version.
You won’t be able to use iTunes with DJ software. Do you manage your music library with iTunes, then DJ with that library with Traktor, Serato, Rekordbox, and other tools? Do you use iTunes on the Mac for playlists and library management and then use Rekordbox to load the library on USB sticks? iTunes is removed from Catalina, it doesn’t run on Catalina, this functionality doesn’t work, and there’s currently no information on what workaround will be possible or how the new Music app will or won’t work with these tools. It’s very possible this will get fixed, but right now it doesn’t work and there’s no information on what the fix will be. Got it?
You’re going to see a whole bunch of dialog boxes. Yeah, about those new security features – the first run can be, uh, exciting. Here’s an image. Fortunately, this is only on the first time you launch software. It’s another example of why you should do major OS updates basically when you have no critical work coming up and some free time on your hands.
Printers and other hardware may need an update. Look around you. See every device you rely on? Double-check that device has support. Does that seem like too much time? Maybe wait some weeks or months, because it will get better.
How long is long, and who should upgrade, and how?
Even waiting two weeks helps. Various developers including heavyweights like Steinberg and Pioneer are saying they expect to have more information by the end of October. That may sound arbitrary, but it has to do with the amount of time developers have had to deal with final pre-release versions of the OS and, as of yesterday, the OS being out in the wild with all of us.
Who should upgrade now? Developers and system administrators or anyone whose job is support.
For everyone else, plan on this:
If you want to retain support for older plug-ins and drivers that may not be updated, expect to keep one Mac around that runs Mojave or earlier.
If you do want to upgrade, just use a second hard drive to test first. This is even more effective than making a full backup (though that’s always a good idea, too). Here’s an easy guide. But even if you’re thinking of a testbed system, you should probably wait 2-4 weeks minimum.
If you’re thinking of buying a new system, for now, these will all still run Mojave if you need them to do so. In the future, Apple may upgrade its Mac hardware in such a way that will require Catalina, so be aware of that if you need to run any old 32-bit tools.
Use a break soon to upgrade to … Mojave
For stable systems, many of us for years have simply lagged Apple by one year, because macOS is now on an annual autumn release cadence.
So now is – seriously – a great time to update to Mojave. That upgrade is still available from the Mac App Store. It’s now quite stable and thoroughly tested, and updates are available to most tools.
It’s also an ideal “long term” upgrade for the Mac for a long time to come. It has the most stable audio system of recent updates, it has support for most of the newest Apple APIs (even including Metal graphics), and yet it retains support for 32-bit software.
Hey, remember, some people still have Atari machines they use actively for music.
What about Windows? Look, all OSes are complicated to support. And yeah, Windows users, don’t get snarky yet. While Microsoft has excellent developer support and tends to prioritize backward compatibility in ways Apple does not, it’s very likely Windows will also face some challenges as it moves away from 32-bit support and deals with security threats. Basically, let’s leave OS wars for the 1990s and focus on what works best for your actual use case. Though I would happily engage in an Atari versus Amiga debate for nostalgia’s sake if someone wants.
Why would we ever want this upgrade?
Okay, good question. This isn’t limited to Catalina – you might even wait for the OS update after this one – but Apple is adding features that could eventually matter to the Mac. (It’s hard to compare this directly to Linux or Windows, but at least for Mac users.)
More iOS apps will work on the Mac. 10.15 is the minimum OS version that supports a technology called Catalyst that will make it easier for iOS-only apps to run on the Mac, too.
The Mac is getting more accessible. Users with disabilities will find additional features in macOS Catalina, both for people with impaired vision and those using voice control and entry.
There should be expanded performance working with visuals. We’re waiting on more test data on this, but just as Apple is dumping some old graphics APIs, you should expect enhanced video and 3D graphics performance from many of the new ones. (As I said, for now you do getthe Metal benefits under Mojave, though some specific features for working with for instance Apple’s own displays are Catalina-only.)
There are various consumer features, too. If you’re involved in game development, for instance, you may care that Apple Arcade is on the new Mac release.
And yes, I think for people with iPads, the Sidecar combination with Catalina will be great – though I’m sticking with iPad Pro / Pencil and Duet on Windows and Mac for now, personally.
Tools and technology are often described as obstacles. But sometimes focusing on a tool can refine musical process and composition – as main(void) reveals.
And yes, the goal here is, as always, to cure writers’ block and finish something that you feel really happy with. Let’s first hear the finished item, as it’s got the kind of deliciously calculated, precise electronics that first drew me to Europe. It feels chilly, but still sensual – foreplay for cyborgs, you know, putting the tech in techno:
Working musicians all have to balance different gigs. An emerging role for us is working out how to take day jobs in designing tools and sound design, and use that experience to help us make our creative musical experience better.
In the case of main(void), aka Jan Ola Korte, it meant parlaying his work in 2018 designing sounds for Native Instruments’ TRK-01 into honing his music making process. He writes:
When I was working on the sound design for Native Instruments TRK-01 in 2018, I saved a few presets to use in my own music. These sounds and patterns ended up becoming the foundation of Stoicism, my first solo EP that was released Aug 21 on Spatial Cues. I had a little bit of a writer’s block situation, so I tried to resolve it by working within very restrictive parameters. All five original tracks on Stoicism use TRK-01 as the only sound source, processed through a number of effect plug-ins. Limiting myself in this way created a nicely coherent sound palette. Since I only used TRK-01’s internal sequencers, I arranged the tracks via automation in Ableton Live, which switched up my routine in an inspiring way. In the end, this workflow not only resolved the writer’s block but led to my most comprehensive release so far.
The basic idea of TRK-01 is to do just that – it puts some focused modules dedicated to dance production in a single place. There’s a kick module, bass, sequencer, and effects – but it’s not preset territory, as each module has a number of different engines. That is, the clever twist here is removing cognitive overhead (by simplifying and integrating the interface), without limiting your creative choices (since there is still a full spectrum of very different sounds you can get out of each module).
Even with that being said, you still might not be certain how to turn this into a completed track. Now, each person will find a different pathway there, but seeing how Jan works – a bit like working with a studio mate – can often give you that “ah ha, I could actually learn from this” feeling.
Jan asked if he should do a full narrated look at his working method. Answer: aber ja.
By the way, of course this also means that by keeping this focused, adapting the release to a live gig is far easier. You’ll be able to catch main(void) live at Griessmuhle, alongside some very special DJ friends like DJ Pete, Alinka, and Qzen, plus some great names, in late October in Berlin.
Known for his collaborations with Dasha Rush, Lars Hemmerling shows off on her Fullpanda label his full spectrum of synthesis and production chops. We spoke to him about how he works.
In turns as murky as a depressive overcast German day, as cosmic as a starfield, as brutal as some smelting action, Lars’ latest is all about electronic range and attention to detail. This isn’t any quick fix production – each track is obsessively focused and exquisitely unique. These synths sounds brood and groove, enveloped in wet, fuzzy reverbs, like so much electronic ooze.
You don some waders and head into a swamp of sound in Lars’ work, in a pleasant way. But that to me also comes from his approach to his machines, in finding their organic, particular character. So I wanted to speak with him a bit about how he has found that direction.
Lars is a Berlin native and has been active since the early 90s raves of Rüdersdorf, but you may know him from LADA, his live duo with Dasha Rush. Dasha helms Fullpanda as a trove of underground techno-related (or at least techno-adjacent) fantasies. But Lars has also been active on DOCK records, a good home for ambient-to-leftfield-techno offerings he co-manages. And speaking of things only the in-the-know know, his under-the-radar duo with twin brother Gunnar has also cranked out unique productions. Gunnar takes on a fascination with vintage digital to match Lars’ digital analog proclivities, as Gunnar collects old chip machines like the Commodore and its SID. (Listening at bottom.)
PK: Can you tell us aboutyour approach to instrumentation, and how you assemble these track?
LH: Well, I used different sequencers and synths, but only hardware and no software instruments. I only used some software plug-ins from Eventide, Sonible and Waves in my DAW for the pre-master mix. Usually I record multitrack sessions with some additional overdub recordings. I also reroute synth lines out of the DAW to do a separate FX mix.
The first recorded FX tracks are mostly a blueprint of the sound character of the piece I am working on. This gives me the ability to work more subtle with EFX.
Gear, track by track
Kick: Elektron Analog Rytm
Synths: Yamaha TX802 (which I feed with my self-programmed sound bank from my DX7)
Sequencing: Elektron Octatrack
Pad sounds I played live
A2. “Releasing Strains”:
Drums: Analog Rytm
Synth: Behringer Model D (yes, and I am not afraid to say it)
The Rest is just FX modulation. There was another synth line of my Arp Odyssey, but I took it off.
B1. “Lars Wars”:
Drums: Analog Rytm
Synths (yes) Behringer Model D again and my Arp Odyssey
Sequencing: both Model D and Odyssey sequenced by the Eloquencer.
Here I did not use any sequencer (no MIDI or trigger gate), but instead VCA-Level on the Model D and Arp Odyssey FM, and LFO modulation, with pad sounds on the DX7 live. Surprisingly, the recording went so well that I didn’t need any EQ-ing in my DAW or any pre-master ambitions.
“Running away from myself” (Digital Bonus Track):
Analog Rytm and two Dave Smith Instruments Evolvers. [DSI is now again Sequential]
PK: I know this just because I’ve watched over my shoulder as you mixed my album, and because I know you resist going to plug-in crazy with anything else. You’re still making a lot of use of the Eventide stuff in finishing the album, yes?
LH: Yes. I truly love Eventide! I use the hardware like the Space Reverb and the Time Faktor Delay a lot, and as well the software plug-ins. Mostly I use the Blackhole, H3000 (Band Delays and Factory), and the Omnipressor on the stems of a recording. Eventide just works for me, and it will not change probably to the end of my days. They’re workflow-friendly and creative tools, from my perception. If you work with Eventide, you can feel and see that the engineers and developers are crazy, sound-dedicated freaks like you are. Or even more freaky.
[Ed.-That was not a paid placement in any way. I can vouch for this because every time I ask if Lars has seen a new processing plug-in, he reminds me that he’s perfectly satisfied with the Eventide stuff and tells me the importance of really learning to use one set of tools. -PK]
Can you talk about what inspired this release?
During the production process, I was going through a very difficult time, and I was in a very unstable situation from an emotional perspective. And some tracks were produced under very weird circumstances, as well. I am not getting into details here, because it would be too private.
Many people say that I’, a very kind soul. And at this time, it felt like that my soul was bleeding.
So, the entire EP is truly an imprint of my soul at those times. A valve of emotions. That’s why I called it “Bloody&Soul”. And of course, I liked the word game.
Thanks, Lars. I certainly hear that need to have this valve for our hurting souls – and have a listen, readers, as the results are beautiful and may heal your bleeding spirit, too.
One more wonderful cut from an upcoming VA:
Check this terrific DOCK compilation, including Lars’ work (as “out there”), or also ambient rounds Vol.0:
Lars’ first EP outing with Fullpanda is also essential, with a Space Bolero for you cosmonauts to dance to at your space station’s cantina social:
macOS Catalina, the next Mac release, dramatically tightens security and removes 32-bit compatibility. That will cause incompatibilities with music software, requiring updates. Here’s what you need to know.
Catalina compatibility checklist
macOS Catalina (10.15) is expected to ship in October, replacing Mojave (10.14).
DAWs and other software using plug-ins: Requires updates to work.
Drivers: Installation and operation requires update to work.
32-bit software, software that accesses 32-bit libraries: Incompatible. Cannot be used past macOS Mojave.
Software using legacy video libraries: Incompatible. Cannot be used past macOS Mojave.
Plug-ins: May require update for full compatibility – but may run inside updated DAWs, and will install if the user overrides OS’ installer requirements.
Hardware: If a driver is required for operation, you’ll need an updated driver and installer. Driverless (class-compliant) audio and MIDI gear is unaffected.
Tightened Mac security
It’s worth acknowledging that security concerns are justified, even for consumer operating systems. Malware tools targeting users may be designed to exploit your computer’s resources, steal data, and impersonate you or even steal your money. At best, they can at least make your system unstable.
It’s also not just “a Windows thing”; recent attacks have singled out the Mac, too. For instance, security researchers uncovered an insidious piece of code found in downloads from a piracy website called VST Crack, embedded in pirated versions of software including Ableton Live. The software would embed itself on your system and start mining cryptocurrency. These threats do not impact the legitimate copies of the same software, so yes, this is an added risk when you pirate software.
All OS vendors regularly patch security holes; the approach in macOS Catalina (10.15) is more proactive. Apple are making some changes to the way the OS itself notifies you of activity by software and asks for your approval, a bit more like you had seen previously in iOS or Android. They’re also implementing tougher defaults for installers. And since malware works by running additional code on top of other code or memory, Apple are adding protections against running that code.
The issue here is not that these changes are unwarranted or even entirely unexpected, but that they bring a lot of change at once that will require you to update software – especially music software – in order for it to work properly, or at all.
Let’s look at those two changes separately: one is the change for installers (called “notarization”), and the second is a new set of requirements for how software is granted access to vital information (the “hardened runtime”).
The two requirements are related, because Apple won’t approve installers unless they also comply with the hardened runtime standards. So let’s take a look at the hardened runtime and entitlement permissions first.
Entitlements and the hardened runtime
Let’s recall here how malware works: it runs additional code that you didn’t intend to run, then gives that code access to something vital on your system (like your data, or microphone). So obviously, what Apple is doing is attempting to prevent those two things.
The first thing you’ll notice on macOS Catalina is that the Mac starts asking you for permission a lot more often. So now, the first time you print a score from notation software or try to open a file dialog to browse the desktop, you’ll get a pop-up asking if you really want to do that. That’s a bit annoying, but it’ll only happen once, and then will remember your permissions. And the reason it’s there is, of course, malware might otherwise perform the same task without your consent. You’re already familiar with this behavior from phone apps on Android and iOS; this is effectively the same idea, now on your desktop computer.
With a common, monolithic app, providing these permissions (called “entitlements”) is fairly easy. But music software isn’t monolithic. Your DAW is running all sorts of libraries and plug-ins and so on. Unfortunately, the exploits Apple is targeting in malware – “code injection, dynamically linked library (DLL) hijacking, and process memory space tampering” – also look a lot like the behaviors your DAW performs normally. And your DAW also needs to handle entitlements for plug-ins. In addition to the DAW needing your permission to access certain folders, for example, it also needs to ask your permission if a sample instrument like KONTAKT wants to access files, as well.
Here’s the bit you’ll really need to care about – if you’re upgrade to macOS Catalina, you will need to be prepared to upgrade your DAW, too. Providing this compatibility is complicated, so it’s likely that most developers will be able to support only their latest release – meaning you may require a paid update to that first.
The good news is, theoretically this burden falls on the DAW, not individual plug-ins. (Plug-ins may still require an update, because of the removal of 32-bit code and other portions of the OS required for compatibility, and because of new installer requirements.) But you will need to update any software working with plug-ins, or you may find software won’t run properly or will fail to run altogether.
It’s also likely that even with updates, some software will not work properly immediately after Catalina’s launch. Developers are still learning how to use this new feature of the operating system, and Apple’s frequent OS updates mean they have little time to do so. Also, an additional side effect of the new security requirements is to break the ability of plug-in developers to debug their plug-ins in DAWs, meaning testing is – for now – more difficult. That may slow compatibility and testing.
If you plan to use an older version of a DAW, you’ll want to avoid updating past macOS Mojave (10.14). If you do intend to update – or to buy a new Apple machine once Catalina is pre-installed and required by default – you should plan to use the very latest version of your DAW, and double-check that Catalina is supported. And even with listed Catalina support, expect there could still be some wrinkles immediately after the OS ships.
Once those pieces are in place, though, you will be able to use DAWs and plug-ins as you always have – just with some more pop-ups the first time you do something like access the file system or connect audio hardware.
(One illustration of how entitlements requirements might surprise you – someone on Reddit noticed the Live “computer keyboard” setting, which passes QWERTY keys to MIDI notes, suddenly broke in the Catalina beta. That makes sense; it would require the entitlements provided by the coming Live 10 update. And obviously, malware would love to be able to take your computer keyboard input and route it somewhere else without asking.)
Installer requirements and drivers
The other change in macOS Catalina is to require installers to be “notarized” by default (whereas previously it was a non-mandatory option). This means developers will submit installers to Apple for verification, and that they fulfill certain requirements for how those installers are built. (These requirements largely have to do with how they link against the Mac SDK and following new guidelines like the hardened runtime.)
This is not the same as the App Store approval requirements on iOS (or similar stores from Google and Microsoft). Apple aren’t looking at the software itself, only verifying the installer is built according to their standards. The process takes something like an hour currently, not days or weeks as the stores can. And most importantly, Apple will allow users to override the installer requirement. As with Gatekeeper in current versions of macOS, you’ll get a dialog telling the installer or app was blocked, but you’ll still be able to choose to run something anyway. (Right-click, choose open, and you’ll be given option.)
Unverified plug-ins may also continue to work inside DAWs – depending on the DAW you’re using. This means in theory, you’ll be able to install and attempt to use plug-ins, even if they haven’t been updated for Catalina. You would need to override plug-in notarization requirements for the installation from dmg (Disk Image) files, but once a file was installed, a DAW may be able to support it, theoretically. Your mileage may vary when it comes to actual use, however; the advantage of the installer requirement may be that it gives a clue that a developer has tested on Catalina.
PreSonus has just announced for their Studio One DAW that not only will you need to update Studio One itself, but many plug-ins will also need an update. In their case, plug-ins built before June 1, 2019 will still need to be signed (the earlier method of verification for Apple developers). Plug-ins built after that date will need to fulfill Catalina’s tougher requirements – notarization and the hardened runtime.
Drivers for hardware will hit a hard wall. Unverified drivers will not function on the new OS. This means if you have older hardware that doesn’t have updated drivers and installer, you won’t be able to use it. There’s no ability to override this requirement.
End of the road for 32-bit and legacy libraries
Just as significant as the security changes, Apple is ending support for 32-bit code starting with Catalina. This is a hard barrier – you won’t be able to use “bridge” tools for 32-bit plug-in compatibility, for instance. Any 32-bit app, library, or plug-in will simply refuse to run.
It may not be immediately obvious that software makes use of 32-bit code, either. A 64-bit application may still make use of a 32-bit library. For instance, Ableton tell CDM that they found their previous versions of Live would attempt to call a 32-bit library on startup. These apps may not fail gracefully; they may simply crash. This means even if you’re using a 64-bit and 64-bit plug-ins, you will want to verify compatibility with the vendor before upgrading.
If you have 32-bit plug-ins or older software you rely on, you will likely want to stay on macOS Mojave. Once you upgrade, this software will cease to work. This may also mean you want to retain an older Mac running Mojave or earlier, for backwards compatibility.
Apple has also ended long-deprecated libraries, including the older video library (called QTKit).
Case study: Ableton Live
Ableton provided CDM with access to their compatibility process. An update to Live 10 will support Catalina’s new requirements at launch. This involved a series of changes, which may be typical for DAW developers. In Ableton’s case, it meant the following updates:
· Rebuilding the installer with notarization support and its requirements
· Removing all 32-bit code and libraries (including one 32-bit library that will cause previous versions of Live to crash on launch)
· Providing full compatibility with Max
· Transitioning video code to the latest AVFoundation (from a now-unsupported version of QuickTime)
The move to AVFoundation is good news for anyone working with video – even if you use an older macOS version like Mojave. There’s improved video export performance and new codec options.
Ableton also say you should expect that these updates mean you can use Live with existing plug-ins under Catalina. Based on what plug-in developers tell me, though, you should still anticipate there may still be some issues to resolve with individual plug-ins if you upgarde, and DAW developers like Ableton may not be aware of all of these situations on internal testing alone.
Because of the number of changes to be made, Live 9 will not support Catalina. Conversely, as Apple deprecates older OSes, Live 10 won’t support some of the older versions of macOS. Here’s what will be compatible:
Apple has not necessarily had full support for a new OS even for its own pro software; I’ve contacted Apple to ask if Logic Pro will support Catalina at launch but have not yet gotten a response. (There is a precedent of Apple’s own pro apps sometimes lagging their OS, before you make the assumption that they two will be in sync.)
How should you upgrade, and when?
Here’s a simple piece of advice: don’t update to Catalina immediately. As with any major OS change, music installers, drivers, and DAWs will benefit from more time and testing. Since musicians have complex and diverse setups, odds are you rely on something that won’t be immediately compatible, or that interactions between tools could create unexpected results.
If you do update, you should absolutely make a full backup so you can easily roll back. Time Machine backups can also provide some ability to remove OS updates.
You can also create an external installation of the OS on any drive that is formatted to macOS extended Journaled. It’s probably worth buying an inexpensive drive to test first, especially with an update this significant.
Macworld has two helpful articles (also linked by Ableton):
So, I hear you like tuned 808s. And strings. And pianos. And wavetables. And FM. And filters. And… okay, let’s just put all of those in one synth but make everything a preset. Meet FL Studio 20.5.
The folks at Image Line are always full of surprises – somehow their always-free-upgrades churn out more and more diverse updates. So, as music tech makers all try to figure out ways to encourage you to get to the sounds you want more quickly, FLEX is both that and – not that.
Yes, it’s a “preset-based” interface. So you get lots of sounds to navigate to pre-designed sounds quickly, plus macro controls that let you tweak them to your own purposes. That preset library also includes an in-line store for buying more sounds, which will give Image-Line room to grow later – and to make some money off users in the process, since they give you your FL upgrades for free.
We’ve seen this idea before, everywhere from Arturia’s Analog Lab to Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol. It makes sense that not everyone wants to be a sound designer, and even those who do are sometimes up against a deadline or need some fast inspiration. So you want quick access to sounds, but you still want the ability to modify those sounds and make them your own – a little or a lot.
But this is FL Studio, so you know this won’t just work exactly like everything else does. FLEX has a crazy number of possible sound engines under the hood – subtractive, wavetable, multisample, FM, and even amplitude modulation synths. It seems it also consolidates sound presets from elsewhere, including FL’s own Sytrus and Harmless, and could be a front end to sounds in the tool in future.
And then there are the extras. You can opt for lots of visualizations, including a vectorscope, frequency histogram, and nice colored sepctrogram, in addition to the usual waveform oscilloscope view. The envelopes aren’t dumbed down, either – you get full AHDSR envelopes for both amplitude and filter.
Wow – then, also, 22 (I think I counted right) filter types. That includes two comb filters, a vowel filter, notch, and lots of different shapes of shelves, low pass, and high pass – even three different variations of phaser effects. So, uh, what started as a freebie “beginner” synth somehow accidentally morphed into a filter-packed rival to flagship soft synths of late.
You also get effects, which also have tons of variants, including reverb and delay. The Limiter gets alternative distortion models.
It’s like you went in for a plain hamburger Happy Meal on sale for a dollar, and the kitchen went mad and added siracha sauce and replaced the meat with truffles, but … you know, no complaints there.
Also new in this version:
You can use FL as a VST or AU on Mac (Windows already worked as a VST) Browser audio previewing Performance monitoring Tons of plugin updates Tons of workflow updates
The last time Native Instruments released a synth called Massive, they accidentally helped define genres (EDM, dubstep). But MASSIVE X returns to the original vision: make it easier to get deep with wavetables and modularity and go wild with sound. And now, the wait is over.
It’s been years in the making. But the original team behind Massive are back with a sequel to one of the most influential software synths ever made.
I was actually the very first press meeting for Massive, back in the day. But what that tells you is, initially they thought they were making something for nerds, not what would become EDM mainstages.
In 2019, MASSIVE X enters a world that’s not only been shaped by the first Massive, but is also far more comfortable with digital sounds and modularity, the staples of the original. Even inside NI, you’ve got REAKTOR and BLOCKS. There are plenty of other wavetable synths, plenty of semi-modular plug-ins. There are semi-modular synths – heck, Moog alone has three just in one line. There are Eurorack modulars in pricey hardware racks that require a screwdriver and modeled in software so you just need a laptop.
I mean, basically, those of us who love synths are all really spoiled. And like any spoiled child, little wonder there are bunches of those people whining and crying and rolling around on the floor like a toddler who ate too much candy. Well… if you read message forums, which I try not to.
So is there a place for MASSIVE X? You’ll hear plenty of talk from Native Instruments and reviewers alike, but let’s boil this story down.
MASSIVE X is a rarity – a kitchen sink digital synth plug-in that keeps its front panel easy to read.
Deep routing lets you path when you want to. But unlike a full-blown modular, that doesn’t stop you from creating sounds (and even modularity) straight away – and your sound design remains within a consistent interface and architecture.
Bigger on the inside than it is on the outside
Basically, the latest MASSIVE gives you this: it makes an argument for a semi-modular design by packing the oscillators with features, and then giving you ways of playing and modulating and inter-connecting all that depth easily. It walks that balance between complexity under the hood and legibility inside a coherent interface. So while other people might easily dismiss adding another semi-modular plug-in when you could just patch, there is a fundamentally different method to constructing sounds based on this architecture:
All about those oscillators. 170 wavetables, 10 oscillator modes, submodes for each of the oscillator modes – Massive focuses you on one architecture and one UI, but then gives you loads of choices once you’re there.
Get weird without even patching. It’s a true semi-modular, so you can make sounds without patching anything – and you can use its phase modulation oscillators to start that modulation just from the oscillator section. (Yeah, you’ll wind up doing some sound designs where you never get past those oscillators. And that’s fun, anyway.)
Route and patch in ways conventional modulars can’t. With a huge routing matrix and a unique approach to insert effects, you can swap all sorts of unique processors inside an individual sound – and recall all of those as presets. Any control output can be connected to any input; audio can go to and from anywhere you like. It’s enormously flexible.
There are plenty of synths out there with deep architectures, but MASSIVE X allows you to then take that depth and work with it:
Trackers give you sophisticated control over how MASSIVE X behaves as an instrument – by designing how it responds as you play.
Make uniquely playable instruments. NI have added a number of tools for tracking input from performance, as in velocity, and then scaling and mapping that where you like. This means you can make sounds like instruments, and ‘play’ a lot of that sonic depth live. (There are four Tracker modules to accomplish this.)
Add variety in performance and modulation. Tracker modules let you play live; Performer modulators let you draw in up to eight bars of modulation patterns and use those without playing. That can mean either unattended modulation in the sound, or can be triggered live with your controller.
You have 9 slots for LFOs, voice randomization, and then a bunch of potential sources and shapes for those variations.
The original MASSIVE isn’t going anywhere. And that’s important, because it’s light on the CPU in a way the new X – and other plug-ins – aren’t.
But MASSIVE X is simply a beast. As a flagship for Native Instruments, it enters some competitive waters – not the least being the fact that NI itself has, effectively, more than one flagship.
Performer envelopes give you the kind of extensive, visual modulation you expect from 2019 flagship software. The Remote Editor lets you trigger those envelopes live, making this a tool for improvisation or onstage.
Inside the Voice
Having said MASSIVE X is all about having a consistent architecture and UI – there is definitely a candy store inside. Just some rough ideas of specs, to give you an idea:
Unit FX: Dimension Expander, Flanger, Nonlinear Labs, Phaser, Standard EQ, Stereo Delay, Stereo Expander
The Voice page. You can also find some possibilities messing about with Noise Restart, Oscillator Restart, Spread and Engine Reset – think serious sound design with phasing. Combine that with the various oscillator types and modes and poly/mono/unison modes, and a really wild option called Unisono (for unique, analog-ish drifts and detunes), and you could probably devote a whole month in the studio just on this page and be perfectly satisfied.
Filling a Massive niche?
The thing is, MASSIVE X makes even more sense in 2019 than it did when it first arrived. And if MASSIVE demonstrated that a larger slice of the population was ready for edgy, hyper-modulated experimental sounds, MASSIVE X might demonstrate that more people are ready for experimental sound design..
This isn’t a straight modular workflow. It isn’t a Eurorack. It isn’t REAKTOR. And it shouldn’t be any of those things. Instead, MASSIVE X brings back what made the first MASSIVE compelling – drag and drop routing, easy visual “saturn ring” modulation – and adds more sonic depth, the kinds of organic quality now possible on today’s CPUs, and more visual feedback. We all spend too much time staring at screens, but MASSIVE X gives us a good reason to look back – and is far easier on the eyes (and brain) in the process.
So, sure, we are spoiled for choice, which I’m sure means MASSIVE X will get some significant hostility from the sorts of people who lurk in comment threads instead of make sounds. But I’m happy to have my cake and eat it, and my other five cakes, too.
From my own vantage point, having not been entirely swayed by would-be contenders to the plug-in throne, I think MASSIVE X will be ideal as a complement to open-ended modulars. Having a single oscillator section that does this much means you don’t get lost window-shopping modulars. And that matrix and the depth of Trackers and Performers means MASSIVE X is manageable when other modulars (hardware or software) turn into messes of spaghetti-routing, at least for sounds you want to pack to the brim with subtle shifting transformations over time.
More details of this as I spend more time with the now-finished build. (Sound design, too – just give me some time on that!)
[watch this space, we should have the overview video from NI shortly…]
USD / EUR 199
USD / EUR 149 upgrade from the previous version
Included in KOMPLETE 12 (and greater editions)
There’s indeed a lot of competition. Look to:
U-he‘s ZEBRA2, Hive 2. Also deep modulation, but with a single window mode – more like Massive 1 – to MASSIVE X’s various pages and options.
ARTURIA Pigments We’ll be looking more soon at the sound possibilities of this one. It’s perhaps more conservative than MASSIVE X, but its virtual analog/wavetable hybrid is a crowd pleaser, there’s a unique and easy-to-follow interface, and it has a clear high-contrast dark look to the all-gray/beige Massive approach.
Serum of course arguably stole the bass crown from Massive as NI bided their time on an update. It is focused on wavetables (and custom wavetables) compared to MASSIVE X’s fascinating sprawl.
Who else would you want to see up for comparison? Let us know.
To me, at least my initial impression is all this mayhem of choice makes MASSIVE X stand out, but we’ll be interested to dig deeper and get feedback from other sound designers.
PORTAL is a new granular synthesis effect plug-in from Output – and it lets you get into some serious mayhem across pitch, time, and synced tempo.
Output’s stuff has generally delivered deep, cutting-edge, futuristic sounds with pretty, easy UIs, and this is no different. You can dial up presets by category (with names like “vocals,” “stretch & smear,” “drums,” and “glitchy”). Then you can use either macro knobs and faders, plus the signature graphical portal X/Y control, or dive into a more detailed editing interface.
Macro effects and X/Y give you the spaceship control panel overview.
And there’s reason to love this particular package: PORTAL is the stuff of science fiction. Whether you’re just dialing up presets or drawing your own modulation and controls, it lets you mangle space and time the way you dreamed – not just at random, but really warping the heck out of your sounds.
I have no idea how I’d make a demo of this, but – I did wind up mangling a kind of boring groove I’d worked on into this alien world. Pick four tracks, add PORTAL to each, and go. Fun times.
And their demo:
For those not in the know: granular synthesis involves chopping up sound into tiny bits – grains – and then producing new continuous sounds by clustering lots of those pieces together as it plays back. The result can be stretching, smearing, re-pitching, and glitching and distorting sounds, warping and mangling time and frequency in the process. It’s the basic basis of a lot of re-pitch and re-time effects, as well as more specialized (and weird) effects.
Start by navigating the presets – seriously, go ahead and scroll through them, as each category has a pretty broad range.
What makes PORTAL special is a deep granular engine – combining wild-sound granular reprocessing with a built-in grain delay – all wrapped into a powerful interface. At the top level, that interface lets you just modify a couple of parameters for some major sonic effects. But dig in deeper, and you get a few key features:
Tempo-synced delay effects (meaning you might even just use this as a grain delay)
Tuning that ranges between free and tuned intervals
Two modulation sources with editable curves and time sync
That may not seem significant right away. But the ability to run time and pitch free (for mangled special effects) or tune it into specific beat-synced effects and tuned intervals means this can be as chaotic or as tied to the project context as you wish.
The modulation interface is also really clever. Click RNDM to generate curves. Use SYNC to adjust modulation curves to tempo. And then use a HUMANIZE option to add bits of randomization. I’d love this particular modulation editor just about anywhere.
Creating new sound designs this way is intuitive, but this is a case where even the most preset-prone will want to explore some of the presets just to find out what’s possible. Granular effects being as wide-ranging as they are, there is a certain fun to just scrolling through effects presets for happy accidents with whatever source material you have.
I think Output sell short the existing granular effects out there, which they describe as “a method that has previously been out of reach and impractical for many musicians.” There are plenty of great grain effects, and from Reaktor to iPad apps, casual musicians have often found ways of getting creative with them.
The editor interface is where the fun really starts, thanks to the ability to sync to pitch interval and tempo, easily see what you’re doing, and generate/edit your own modulation curves.
But I also mean to say, I think Output are underselling how special PORTAL is even among those other grain options. Integrating the grain delay and making modulation and pitch and time controls intuitive and accessible makes this one of the easiest sound design tools for grains I’ve seen yet. It’s especially useful as a grain delay.
Just don’t be shy trying a lot of the presets – some are way more useful or musical than others. And don’t be afraid of that editor interface: mouse over the labels for descriptions or numerical feedback on settings, and give the modulation a go.