Polyend’s Tracker is here – powerful, standalone hardware, at just $599/€499

Surprise number one: Polyend’s Tracker packs a lot of deep musicality you may have missed in the teasers and leaks. Surprise two: it costs far less than people first guessed.

At $599 (with a free hard case, too), independent Polish maker Polyend looks competitive up against some big brands.

Here’s the basic idea – you shouldn’t have to know what a “tracker” is for this to be useful to your music making. The essence of their appeal is about being able to quickly edit rhythms without being stuck in a single division of the beat. But the old trackers can be confusing, if they get some nerdy cred, in that they tend to assume you only want to play with keyboards and you read hexadecimal values as numbers.

Tracker is not that way – it’s built around grids and pads and knobs, plus big obvious one-touch pads with actual labels on them. So you don’t have to learn hex codes, and you don’t have to memorize anything.

Of course, you still might know the music made with trackers, even if you don’t know the software – and then this makes that technique accessible to you, too. (Yes, if you want to get your Venetian Snares on, now you can do it without dusting off an old Amiga, I mean.)

Now, about some of that depth. You can load your own samples right off an SD card – good. You can already start recording and playing – and yes, doing that live – with direct control. You also get more MPC- or Elektron-style control of parameters, without having to dive into the software tracker UI, so you can change or transpose values or whole patterns.

There’s a serious architecture inside. You can set envelopes and modulation to manipulate “granular” and wavetable positions – a bit like some of the features I liked best on Polyend’s Medusa. There’s an onboard filter, reverb, bitcrusher, and limiter, so a full complement of effects and icing.

There’s a really unique per-part approach to volume, which I’ll go into detail about later.

And there are a lot of cool features. Some tips I got from Polyend:

  • There’s a sample editor
  • You can take screenshots of the tracker interface
  • Yes, there’s an FM radio antenna for sampling sound from terrestrial airwaves (now we need to also start some pirate radio stations, right?)
  • You can use custom wavetables – like those available for Serum and Ableton’s Wavetable instrument
  • Pitch shifting is aliased, for an old school sound
  • You can preview samples right off the SD card
  • Inside, it’s a custom platform of Polyend’s own creation (well, if I can really lean on them, maybe they’ll tell me what it is)
  • Yes, it’s stereo (though samples are mono – again, oldschool style)

Full specs: stereo out, mono line in, mono mic in, MIDI in and out (on jack connectors), USB-C. All the adapters are in the box – even a convenient MicroSD to USB-A adapter. I don’t have pics yet of that hard case, but it is also free. And the whole thing weighs a gentle 2kg.

I can see this actually being a nice companion to the underrated, exquisite Medusa instrument. The Medusa has expressive pads (with MPE!); the Tracker is non velocity-sensitive (though that’s logical for a tracker). Putting the two together seems a nice, contrasting combination – peanut butter and chocolate?

Loopop got hands-on with one:

But that’s a long video. I think my friend Robert really gets to the point with why this is cool – it’s the “sample anything” immediacy that the MPC launched, but with a unique workflow that lets you get even more control over sound and rhythm. Or as he puts it –

SIMPLICITY IS KEY: POLYEND TRACKER! this machine is crazy. I've started today with sampling vinyl, square and sine waves…

Gepostet von Robert Lippok am Mittwoch, 18. März 2020

Medusa lovers/owners: by the way, I do hear via a birdie (I think, my bird Polish is is poor) that there are more updates in store for the Medusa. So, at my usual speed of glacially slow musician rather than lightning-fast influencer, I’ll be looking again at Medusa and look forward to Tracker when it’s ready for full review around summer (which in the current climate feels about ten years away, but I know is, in reality, coming at the normal speed).

Tracker is already available for preorder.

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Polyend’s Medusa still looks unique amidst wavetable rush, and now it’s €798

With characteristic engineer’s modesty, Polish maker Polyend calls its Medusa wavetable+analog grid “slightly different.” But it’s really rather different, and a €798 price makes it more accessible.

TL:DR – the Medusa is a unique instrument sonically, nothing else has its control layout, the grid adds expression and doubles as MPE controller for other gear (including modular), and the price cut should bring it slightly more in range. (Plus you now get some colored knobs for customization.)

I’m honestly surprised, then, that it hasn’t gotten more attention, but I think it could be a slow burner. At the risk of being accused of shilling for Polyend, let me explain why I feel that way; you’re welcome to disagree, naturally.

Let’s get into it:

There’s an embarrassment of riches in the synth world now, both modular and desktop. And 2019 has quickly become a flood of instruments employing wavetable synthesis. At first, I thought that might make the more boutique, idiosyncratic Polyend Medusa lost in the crowd. But on reflection, I think now with all these wavetable options – and yes, more about those soon – the Medusa stands out.

I’ll be a bit blunt. One drawback of wavetable synthesis is that the sounds can become grating. And the same thing that makes wavetable appealing (wild possibilities as you modulate through the wavetables) can also make it tiring or hard to control (wild possibilities as you modulate through the wavetables). That’s arguably an objective assessment, even – the whole idea of the approach is, you get a bunch of harmonic and inharmonic content shifting quickly. We’re not accustomed to that in acoustic instruments or most natural sound. It’s exciting, but too much of it could then become like drinking hot sauce out of the bottle.

So with that in mind, Medusa’s split personality seems rather prescient. By pairing the three digital wavetable oscillators with three analog oscillators, the Dreadbox analog filter (to tame some of that harmonic content), and an analog noise generator, there’s ample opportunity to balance out the instrument’s edgier sounds with some warm body. And Polyend’s deceptively simple approach – putting dedicated fader smack dab in the middle of the unit – means you can literally just reach out and grab either side to adjust.

If you just want a wavetable synthesizer, in other words, you now have a growing number of cheaper options. But a big reason why I don’t want to part with the Medusa is, it has this strong tendency to be warm and fuzzy when you want it to be – and to mix hard-synced analog sounds with the wavetable ones.

That alone isn’t quite enough to set apart the Medusa, though, since there are various other architectures available. So now, some of the braver design decisions Jacek and Polyend made on the Medusa mean that it continues to stand out of the pack. That is, no one else is really attacking ideas like this:

  • The XYZ touch detection of the Medusa grid (which is still astoundingly precise and expressive, something that’s hard to nail on this sort of 8×8 grid)
  • MPE compatibility (now a MIDI standard for polyphonic expression, so you can use all those fingertips of yours independently, as intended)
  • Lots of independent modulation sources and the ability to route them with just a couple of button presses – that is, the five LFOs and five loopable envelopes – all without menu diving.

Here’s a beautiful demonstration of how well this MPE stuff works, using Polyend’s also-superb Poly 2 MIDI to CV converter. It really makes an excellent polyphonic controller for modular hardware and advanced MPE-compatible software synths:

On specs alone, other wavetable instruments do look competitive. But none so far under a grand offers this accessibility of modulation and expression that the grid and control layout of the Medusa provide.

And I feel now more than ever than owning the Medusa really is like having a unique Eurorack modular, minus the rack. And it’s one that you get attached to, rather than wanting to unscrew a couple of modules and put them up for sale used. (Yes, Dreadbox for their part even have a new line of budget modules. And they’re great, but note that you quickly reach the price of the Medusa, without a case, and with fewer capabilities and arguably even less-ready routing.)

All of this ought to be an answer to people droning on… Oh, wait – drones! I forgot! Drone mode is really superb, allowing you to latch tones and create gorgeous, shifting drones. You can spend hours doing this.

Sorry, got distracted there. Where was I? Oh yes –

People are constantly droning on (a much less appealing sound than music drones) about how there are no new ideas in electronic instruments, yadda yadda, everything is from the 70s, everything is a clone or remake…

The Medusa ought to be an answer to that, if more people paid it some attention. 3D grid sensing is absolutely new, as is the kind of integrated control possible here. Now, sure, individual elements like envelopes and wavetable synthesis and 24dB/octave analog filters are all new. But it’s peculiar that synths are suddenly held up to this idea of needing to reinvent fundamental building blocks every single time. If acoustic instruments were judged by the same standard, you could argue there was no difference between a bagpipe, an English horn, and a Cambodian Sralai because they all have reeds. The exact combination really does matter. You might love or hate the combination on the Medusa, but that’s the point – it feels like a particular set of instrumental decisions.

I’ve reviewed the Medusa already, though, and thanks to being slow with my review incorporated lots of the firmware improvements early reviewers missed.

But I do feel reasonably confident in saying it’s worth a look if €799 is now in budget. It’s definitely not for everyone. But why should everything be that? What the Medusa proves is, even doing something relatively obvious (polyphony, wavetable sound sources), you can still remain unique by taking some risks.

And if I didn’t cheer-lead a bit for that, it would mean I had probably ceased being myself.

Previously, full review:

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Polyend puts presets in your modular – plus run on a battery, anywhere

Hey, modulars are great. But you can’t call up presets at will, like on a computer. And you can’t head for a day of patching to the shore of your local lake. Or – can you? The folks at Polish maker Polyend are breaking the rules.

I think these are devilishly clever ideas – and there’s certainly some devilishly clever marketing.

Centralized encoders, grids for saving and recall, sequenced presets, an LFO, gesture recording – this unit does a lot.

Presets on a modular

First up: Polyend Preset. Okay, it’s not quite preset storage for your modular – you can’t sample the voltage level of other patch cords, so you’re going to have to remember some of how you patched together a sound. But Polyend have made a matrix of knobs and pads that gives you full nine different outputs. The encoders have variable RGB lighting for UI feedback and for checking values, and that’s paired with Polyend’s signature pads. It all looks ideal for live performance.

Here’s the workflow: you consolidate the parameters you want to control, save, and recall on Polyend’s own module. That gives you a centralized command station for tweaking all the rest of your modular rig. You have 9 CV outs – one of which is also an LFO. And you can restore and recall values. You could use that to save particular sounds as you’re working, or to set up a setlist of patches to play live. Or you could also ‘play’ those different values from the pads, or even sequence them (internally, or driven by external CV).

You choose continuous CV, scaled musical pitches, gate, or on the ninth encoder, LFO. Specs:

9 CV outs
1V/Oct, 0-10V, or gate output
32 onboard musical scales
Phrase automation – record and send out voltage changes – each output has up to 30 seconds recording
Instant preset recall (so you can play the grid, too)
Sequence from external gate / 0-10V

Hey readers – does anyone remember an April Fools joke about a year ago that featured ‘preset storing’ patch cables? It was a funny idea, even if it was obviously a joke. Looked for the video and couldn’t find it. And this is… kinda sorta that.

Okay, summertime, looks like we’ll have some modular in the park. Everything is running off that little power bank you see with the USB cable popping out of it.

Into the woods

Polyed Anywhere is also great stuff – it’s a simple power supply module with a USB input, to which you can connect a 20,000 mAh battery for modular busking, open air synthing, seaside noodling, whatever. (They were using this at the show.)

Future shot some video of these two together:

And a new Poly

Poly 2 is the latest version of their MIDI to CV converter. Trigger 8 voices, use Gate, V/Oct or Hz/V for pitch that works with anything, velocity, CC, and clock – and now it’s also got Smart Thru for daisy chaining, more onboard musical scales, and crucially, MPE compatibility. This isn’t the only game in town – we need some comparison to offerings from Expert Sleepers and Bastl – but it’s certainly one of the more capable.

I’m still most excited about Polyend’s desktop polysynth, though, not modular – stay tuned for that review this week, as Medusa holds up nicely even against the latest polysynths revealed this week.

No updates on the Polyend site as I write this, but check them out:

http://polyend.com

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Free download: A 400-page guide to experimental Eastern Europe sounds

If experimental music and Europe make you think only of cities like Paris and London, you’re missing a big part of the story. Now you can grab a huge reference on fringe and weird electronic music from the east – and it’s free. (At least that would please Marx.)

Berlin, and Europe in general, have exploded as hubs for experimental sounds. And if you want an answer to why that’s happened lately, look in no small part to the ingenuity, technical and artistic, of central and eastern Europe. These artistic cultures flourished during the Cold War, sometimes with support from Communist states, sometimes very much in the face of adversity and resistance from those same nations. And then in a more connected Europe, brought together by newly open borders and cheap road and air transit, a younger generation continues to advance the state of the art – and the state of the weird.

Old biases die hard, though. Cold War (or simply racist) attitudes often rob central and eastern Europe of deserved credit. And then there’s the simple problem of writing a history that’s fragmented by language and divisions that arose between East and West.

So it’s worth checking out this guide. It’s an amazing atlas covering history and new scenes, and the PDF edition is now available to download for free (if you can’t locate the print version).

SOUND EXCHANGE was a project from 2012-2012, connected to events in seven cities – Kraków, Bratislava, Tallinn, Vilnius, Budapest, Riga and, Prague. That’s Poland, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Latvia, and Czech, respectively. It’s also relevant that we’re seeing these countries produce music tech alongside music – Bastl Instruments in Czech, Polyend in Poland, and Erica Synths in Latvia, just to name three that have lately gotten a lot of attention (and there are others).

There’s 400 pages – in both German and English – with a huge range of stuff. There’s fringe rock music in Germany, radio art from Czech, intermedia and multimedia art from across the region, what Latvia has been up to in experimental music since independence … and the list goes on. Technology and music practice go hand in hand, too, as workshops and music concerts intertwine to spread new ideas – both before and after the fall of communism, via different conduits.

It’s a fitting moment to rediscover this exhibition; CTM Festival here in Berlin has been a showcase for some of the east-meets-west projects including Sound Exchange’s outcomes. And CTM itself is arguably a recipient of a lot of that energy, in the one capital that sits astride east and west – even today, in some ways, minus the wall. The festival is turning 20 this year, and not incidentally, East Berlin-founded label Raster is showcasing its own artists in an exhibition and DJ sets.

Maybe it’s not bedtime reading, but even a skim is a good guide:

http://www.soundexchange.eu/

Download (uh, happy to re-host this if the bandwidth doesn’t hold up – I know how the kids love their Latvian experimental music book research):
http://www.soundexchange.eu/seiffarth_stabenow_foellmer%E2%80%93sound_exchange_2012.pdf

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SPIRALALALA transforms a spiral staircase into a vocal vortex

Just when you’re bored with digital media installations, something happens that gets you back to childlike wonder mode. And a magical staircase is a pretty good way to do that.

The team at Poland’s panGenerator have been on a tear lately. This time, they took a grand spiral staircase and imagined what would happen if you could make your voice a kinetic part of the architecture. It’s way better than just shouting your echo at a wall.

It’s also a great example of how spatial sound and architecture can interact, making the normally static structures of an environment more dynamic. This is the sort of interactive architecture we’re routinely promised, but now you see/hear it actually working. Each floor gets its own audio, so the sound seems to descend with the ball. Custom built gates with infrared sensors and radio modules complete the illusion by transforming the sound accordingly.

It’s neo-baroque sonic trompe l’oeil, made with digital technology. The digital transformations of the sound, mapped to the actual kinetic movement of the ball, mix virtual and real.

The artists:

Krzysztof Cybulski
Krzysztof Goliński
Jakub Koźniewski

What we got most recently from the same Warszawa-based crew:

The retro-futuristic Apparatum draws from Polish electronic music history

Details:

During MDF Festival we’ve changed the iconic spiral staircase of the Szczecin Philharmonic into 35m long / 15m high spatial voice-transforming instrument.

The audience has been invited to experiment with various spatialised sound effects applied to their vocalisations that were synchronised with the movement of the balls falling along 35m long track. The interaction starts with insertion of the ball into the microphone. Then recording starts and after the recorded sound stops the ball is released to slide down along the track.

Thanks to custom built gates with infrared sensors and radio modules the sound transformations applied to the recording were synchronised with the current speed and position of the ball. The light trail following the ball has also been created thanks to the sensors and microcontrollers measuring the speed of the ball passing the gates.

Since we were using five speakers – one per floor, we were also able to achieve spatialisation of the sound creating the illusion of the sound “falling” with the ball. As a finishing touch we’ve also used simple projection mapping synchronised with the motion of the ball to make the whole thing more visible for the people standing in the lobby of the Philharmonic.

In the end we’ve created a playful and engaging audience-driven audiovisual performance that exemplifies our vision for integrating new media art practice with architecture and breathing the life into static form thanks to digital technology.

——

VIDEO CREDITS

DOP – Hola Hola Film – holaholafilm.pl
VIDEO EDITING & POSTPRODUCTION – Jakub Koźniewski
SOUND EDITING – Krzysztof Cybulski
VIDEO SOUNDTRACK – Maciek Dobrowolski – mdobrowolski.com
VOICE – Jona Ardyn – jonaardyn.pl

SPECIAL THANKS

Paulina Stok-Stocka
Barbara Kinga Majewska
Tomasz Midzio
Maciej Kalczyński

—–

pangenerator.com/
mdf.filharmonia.szczecin.pl/
https:/filharmonia.szczecin.pl/en

More:

http://pangenerator.com/projects/spiralalala/

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Free pack of sounds from the Polish Radio Experimental Studio

Think of it as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop of the east: the Polish Radio Experimental Studio produced unparalleled electronic sounds and inventions for decades. Recognition of those accomplishments is growing – and now Ableton are collaborating to produce a free pack of sounds and tell the PRES story.

Vital stats on this project:

Who’s behind this: Poland’s national cultural institution Instytut Adama Mickiewicza (IAM) commissioned the library from Ableton and contributors.

Where do the sounds come from: Works made at the studio by composers Krzysztof Knittel, Elżbieta Sikora, and Ryszard Szeremeta, 1970s-80s, comprise the original sound material.

Who built the pack: Project coordinator Michal Mendyk worked with Ableton Certified Trainer Marcin Staniszewski.

What’s in there: 300 sounds, loops, and effects organized into Drum Racks, plus custom Effect Racks, all pre-mapped with macros (making them easy to use with Push or other controllers)

Check out the pack and a full article on the studio and its history at Ableton’s site (plus more on Marcin Staniszewski and his music):

Sounds from the Polish Radio Experimental Studio

Lots more links there, but the history to me is the most compelling. Paralleling the hot-and-cold relationships of experimental sound and music technology in East Germany and the Soviet Union in the same period, there was a precarious relationship of electronic sound to the government in Communist Poland. Michal Mendyk tells the story of studio founder Józef Patkowski to Ableton:

Paradoxically, a couple of years earlier, it was Sokorski who introduced social realism and radical political and aesthetical censorship in Polish art and culture. He was famous for having said about Witold Lutosławski, one of the leaders of Polish music vanguard that “he should be thrown under a tram”. So, in 1957 the same guy was responsible for creating the most experimental music centre in the whole Eastern Europe! He later said that Polish Radio Experimental Studio was his way to redeem his previous sins. This is one of many example of how paradoxical cultural and intellectual life in an authoritarian system can be.

Here’s a great documentary on the studio:

And for an imaginative take on the studio’s work, see our previous story:

The retro-futuristic Apparatum draws from Polish electronic music history

Plus more on the ongoing legacy in Poland:

This 1971 Dancing Rectangle from Poland Predicts Modern Techno, AV

Live techno after Polish punk and communism: Dyktando of Brutaż

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Mics that record in “3D” ambisonics are the next big thing

Call it the virtual reality microphone … or just think of it as an evolution of microphones that capture sounds more as you hear them. But mics purporting to give you 3D recording are arriving in waves – and they could change both immersive sound and how we record music.

Let’s back up from the hype a little bit here. Once we’re talking virtual reality or you’re imagining people in goggles, Lawnmower Man style, we’re skipping ahead to the application of these mic solutions, beyond the mics themselves.

The microphone technology itself may wind up being the future of recording with or without consumers embracing VR tech.

Back in the glorious days of mono audio, a single microphone that captured an entire scene was … well, any single microphone. And in fact, to this day there are plenty of one-mic recording rigs – think voice overs, for instance.

The reason this didn’t satisfy anyone is more about human perception than it is technology. Your ears and brain are able to perceive extremely accurate spatial positioning in more or less a 360-degree sphere through a wide range of frequencies. Plus, the very things that screw up that precise spatial perception – like reflections – contribute to the impact of sound and music in other ways.

And so we have stereo. And with stereo sound delivery, a bunch of two-microphone arrangements become useful ways of capturing spatial information. Eventually, microphone makers work out ways of building integrated capsules with two microphone diaphragms instead of just one, and you get the advantages of two mics in a single housing. Those in turn are especially useful in mobile devices.

So all these buzzwords you’re seeing in mics all of a sudden – “virtual reality,” “three-dimensional” sound, “surround mics,” and “ambisonic mics” are really about extending this idea. They’re single microphones that capture spatial sound, just like those stereo mics, but in a way that gives them more than just two-channel left/right (or mid/center) information. To do that, these solutions have two components:

1. A mic capsule with multiple diaphragms for capturing full-spectrum sound from all directions
2. Software processing so you can decode that directional audio, and (generally speaking) encode it into various surround delivery formats or ambisonic sound

(“Surround” here generally means the multichannel formats beyond just stereo; ambisonics are a standard way of encoding full 360-degree sound information, so not just positioning on the same plane as your ears, but above and below, too.)

The B360 ambisonics encoder from plug-in maker WAVES.

The software encoding is part of what’s interesting here. Once you have a mic that captures 360-degree sound, you can use it in a number of ways. These sorts of mic capsules are useful in modeling different microphones, since you can adjust the capture pattern in software after the fact. So these spherical mics could model different classic mics, in different arrangements, making it seem as though you recorded with multiple mics when you only used one. Just like your computer can become a virtual studio full of gear, that single mic can – in theory, anyway – act like more than one microphone. That may prove useful for production applications other than just “stuff for VR.”

There are a bunch of these microphones showing up all at once. I’m guessing that’s for two reasons – one, a marketing push around VR recording, but two, likely some system-on-a-chip developments that make this possible. (All those Chinese-made components could get hit with hefty US tariffs soon, so we’ll see how that plays out. But I digress.)

Here is a non-comprehensive selection of examples of new or notable 360-degree mics.

8ball

Maker: HEAR360, a startup focused on this area

Cost: US$2500

The pitch: Here’s a heavy-duty, serious solution – camera-mountable, “omni-binaural” mic that gives you 8 channels of sound that comes closest to how we hear, complete with head tracking-capable recordings. PS, if you’re wondering which DAW to use – they support Pro Tools and, surprise, Reaper.

Who it’s for: High-end video productions focused on capturing spatial audio with the mic.

https://hear360.io/shop/8ball

NT-SF1

Maker: RØDE, collaborating with 40-year veteran of these sorts of mics, Soundfield (acquired by RØDE’s parent in 2016)

Cost: US$999

The pitch: Make full-360, head-trackable recordings in a single mic (records in A-format, converts to B-format) for ambisonic audio you can use across formats. Works with Dolby Atmos, works with loads of DAWs (Reaper and Pro Tools, Cubase and Nuendo, and Logic Pro). 4-channel to the 8-ball’s titular eight, but much cheaper and with more versatile software.

Who it’s for: Studios and producers wanting a moderately-priced, flexible solution right now. Plus it’s a solid mic that lets you change mic patterns at will.

Software matters as does the mic in these applications; RØDE supports DAWs like Cubase/Nuendo, Pro Tools, Reaper, and Logic.

https://en.rode.com/nt-sf1

H3-VR

Maker: ZOOM

Cost: US$350

The pitch: ZOOM is making this dead simple – like the GoPro camera of VR mics. 4-capsule ambisonic mic plus 6-axis motion sensor with automatic positioning and level detection promise to make this the set-it-and-forget-it solution. And to make this more mobile, the encoding and recording is included on the device itself. Record ambisonics, stereo inaural, or just use it like a normal stereo mic, all controlled onboard with buttons or using an iOS device as a remote. Your recording is saved on SD cards, even with slate tone and metadata. And you can monitor the 3D sound, sort of, using stereo binaural output of the ambisonic signal (not perfect, but you’ll get the idea).

Who it’s for: YouTube stars wanting to go 3D, obviously, plus one-stop live streaming and music streaming and recording. The big question mark here to me is what’s sacrificed in quality for the low price, but maybe that’s a feature, not a bug, given this area is so new and people want to play around.

https://www.zoom-na.com/products/field-video-recording/field-recording/zoom-h3-vr-handy-recorder

ZYLIA

Maker: ZYLIA, a Polish startup that IndieGogo-funded its first run last year. But the electronics inside come from Infineon, the German semiconductor giant that spun off of Siemens.

Cost: US$1199 list (Pro) / $699 for the basic model

The pitch: This futuristic football contains some 19 mic capsules to the 4-8 above. But the idea isn’t necessarily VR – instead, Zylia claims they use this technology to automatically separate sound sources from this single device. In other words, put the soccer ball in your studio, and the software separates out your drums, keys, and vocalist. Or get the Pro model and capture 3rd-order ambisonics – with more spatial precision than the other offerings here, if it works as advertised.

Who it’s for: Musicians wanting a new-fangled solution for multichannel recording from just one mic (on the basic model), useful for live recording and education, or people doing 3D recordings wanting the same plug-and-play simplicity and more spatial information.

Oh yeah, also – 69dB signal-to-noise ratio is nothing to sneeze at.

Pro Tools Expert did a review late last year, though I think we soon need a more complete review for the 3D applications.

http://www.zylia.co/

What did we miss? With this area growing fast, plenty, I suspect, so sound off. This is one big area in mics to watch, for sure – and the latest example that software processing and intelligence will continue to transform music and audio hardware, even if the fundamental hardware components remain the same.

And, uh, I guess we’ll all soon wind up like this guy?

(Photo source, without explanation, is the very useful archives of the ambisonics symposium.

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Live techno after Polish punk and communism: Dyktando of Brutaż

Dyktando aka Wiktor Milczarek is turning out dark, hard-hitting music and live sets that are brutally groovy. We got to join him in Sweden for our Conspiracy of Planets event – and to get a tour of his music, and the Polish scene.

Conspiracy of Planets was a debut event organized by myself with SONA [Pommes 94, Potent Pussy, GLUK] – her underground collectives (complete with a skate park) in Malmö Sweden getting mixed with Polish collective/label Brutaż, as represented by Wiktor. With the support of Inkonst, club and cultural center, we took over a Saturday night earlier this month.

And all of this meant the pleasure of, among other people, getting to know Wiktor, his unique approach to techno and live playing, and his perspective on the scene in Poland and beyond. Check out a hard-hitting live set from last year. (We’ll have his set from Sweden to share with you soon, too, hopefully.)

And his EP (under his real name) for the label:

Can you tell us a little about your relationship to Brutaz? How did you come to be involved in this collective?

So I was going to the Brutaż parties almost since the beginning. It was started by Piotr Kurek, Michał Libera, and Alessandro Facchini, in the club called Eufemia in the basement of the Art Academie in Warsaw. Then I’ve played once and together with Jacek (rrrkrta), starting to be much more involved in the party. Now I’ve released on Brutaż record label and I’m playing occasionally.

What’s the significance of that collective to you – has that shaped who you are musically?

Yeah, in a really big way. Not only because of what was happening at the parties, but also because we were talking a lot about records, artists, the way they were playing. We kind of have been discovering club music together. What was somehow unusual is the fact that most of us started with an experimental, noise, or modern classical music background and then went to techno, not the opposite.

Ed.: Well, yeah, I can relate to that bit! Maybe it’s the new thing.

Your sound I think is really powerful, really your own. How have you evolved to that point – or how is it continuing to change now?

I think I learned how to produce – and developed my sound – when I was doing my previous project called Souvenir de Tanger. I’ve also found my way of recording tracks, using a Tascam 644 cassette recorder. So almost all the music I make nowadays is just a one-take recording. That gives the opportunity to test ideas fast and also makes this punk-y sound.

I really enjoyed your live set. What’s your onstage rig; what are you playing with?

I’m using a Cyclone TT-303, Dave Smith Instruments Mopho, Boss DR-660 and MFB 522. All of those things are put through various overdrives, delay, and pitch-shifting units. My main sequencer is an MPC 1000 that I’m also using for samples.

How much do you find you plan your sets ahead? Apart from practicing – do you have in mind a sense of what you’ll play? Have you parts pre-programmed?

I do have a prepared melodic structure of the set. I also have pre-made sequences of the different percussion parts (samples and DR-660) that I’m mixing one with another. With this, I’m improvising with MFB-522 and with the sound of Mopho.

You’d talked a bit about these elements from 80s Polish punk that you’re using – what’s the story there; how did you come to make use of those materials? What’s their significance to you?

My mother used to be involved in a Polish punk and post-punk scene in the 80’s. So I’ve been listening to this music since I was a child. She also has a lot of demo and bootleg tapes of really obscure bands, some of them I was sampling for this project. Some of those bands are really interesting, some of them not so, but the way how those tapes sound is really inspiring. Their sound quality is quite unique because of the sound equipment used to record them wasn’t the best and also tape degraded itself during the time.

One band to check out from Polish punk is WC – and yeah, Wiktor got some tapes from his Mom.

On some level, this seems like a split in electronic music – whether some of techno and experimental music continue to take on a punk aesthetic, right? Do you identify with that element in how play at all?

I think European techno has strong roots in punk and especially the post-punk scene. All those bands like Palais Schaumburg or A.G. Geige in Germany — also, the whole scene around Factory Records in the UK — were where many techno artists have started their music careers. So the binding is quite strong and it’s nice that some younger producers are trying to combine those two aesthetics. I find it kind of refreshing after those all years of chasing the perfect sound, that the opposite attitude starts to take over.

It’s also interesting to me to get to dig into Communist-era history of music, art, media, electronic arts … I find I’m doing this as an outsider, and have been personally inspired by what I’ve gotten to learn about Polish culture across these generations, but also that friends from the former eastern bloc are finding out more about one another’s histories, their own countries histories. This seems really different from a moment 20-25 years ago when it seems west and east were ready to just discard that past. Do you feel something has changed here? Are we somehow informing the new stuff we make partly by learning a bit more about what the generations before were doing?

I was born just after communism collapsed in Poland. So this is somehow an exotic past that is fascinating to explore. I think discarding the past is impossible – for many people, there’s still a need to align bills, making justice for people who were involved in the previous political system. (Basically, all of Polish politics you can describe with this conflict). I think what is quite unique for people of my age is the ability to making a less biased assessment of products of that era and rediscover them for our own cultural needs.

I know Polish society faces some real tension and challenge – well, as does my own American society, and it feels these are related. What’s the place of music for you in that sense? Is music something that can help you reach other people?

There is a big conflict in the Polish scene about how club music should be involved in politics. We in Brutaż are thinking that you can make some impact with music and parties. And because of a privileged position – in terms of cultural capital, the ability to reach many people – we should act. I don’t really believe in some magical power of music to change the world, but you can use it to build people’s awareness about political matters, or just to collect money to help people in need. It is, of course, working on a microscale, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not important.

Lastly, inside or outside Brutaż, who are other people from the scene around Warszawa or elsewhere you feel you relate to, that we should know?

Some of my favorite initiatives are:

Dunno. A great party and label run by Lutto Lento and Filip Lech, worth checking their last release of Aldona Orłowska. Polish pop-opera diva and a swimming champion)

https://www.facebook.com/dunnorecordings/

Syntetyk. A terrific local party with really talented DJs, focused mostly on new/synth/etc wave music/

https://www.facebook.com/syntetykk/

Oramics. Polish techno-feminism collective.

Moli Siabadaba, Sasha Zakrevska / Poly Chain of Oramics.

https://www.facebook.com/oramics/

Check out their podcasts archive.

https://www.oramics.pl/

Radar. Great crew from Cracow run by Olivia, Chino and Kinzo.

https://www.facebook.com/radarkrk/

https://soundcloud.com/radarkrk

And of course, don’t miss Dyktando / Wiktor / Brutaż – thanks for this opportunity to chat, and stay tuned for more!

https://soundcloud.com/l-s-c-135346057

Label of the month: Brutaż [Resident Advisor did a nice feature, by Elissa Stolman, in May]

The post Live techno after Polish punk and communism: Dyktando of Brutaż appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

The retro-futuristic Apparatum draws from Polish electronic music history

It’s equal parts Polish Radio Experimental Studio and starship control panel. The Apparatum by Warsaw’s panGenerator proves that not only can everything old is new again – maybe it’s even newer.

Take a look:

The Apparatum is a new installation that reboots Communist-era work from the space age, bringing visual and optical and magnetic concepts into a playful synthesizer concept. It’s the latest work from interactive/media shop panGenerator from Warsaw.

In the early adventurous work in electronic music, there was nothing to take for granted. So it makes sense that Polish pioneer Bogusław Schaeffer would imagine an entirely new visual language to accompany the new sounds humans were hearing from their circuits. His Symphony – electronic music cued the engineer with those hieroglyph-like visuals, and inspires the sounds and visual language here.

But maybe that’s what modernity is now: now that we’re no longer wowed by digital, we’re sophisticated enough to see new potential for magnetic and optical techniques that had been discarded in the march to the new. Artists/researchers like Andrey Smirnov, who delve into the world of Soviet optical synthesis and Theremin, have regularly wondered what an alternate future would be like if radical optical and electro-magnetic techniques had continued to develop. Now, in works like this (and work by artists like Derek Holzer) make that alternate reality our own.

The work also draws from the design aesthetics and the engineering of the original, legendary Polish studio:

The physical form is inspired by the general aesthetics of the Studio’s famous “Black Room” designed by Oskar Hansen. The electroacoustic generators and filters were arranged in a modular fashion inside two steel frames – the construction element that we’ve referred to in our design.

Magnetic tape was the primary medium used in the Polish Radio Experimental Studio. We’re also using two types of “tape samplers” – two 2-track loops and three one-shot linear tape samplers. To obtain noise and basic tones we’re utilising purely analog optical generators based on spinning discs with graphical patterns.

This may just look like digital tech aping the original, but they’ve genuinely made a hybrid. DC motors spin discs made of plexiglass, covered in opaque black foil on one side, with an LED and photoresistor. That optical detector feeds an analog signal, fed directly to the mixer. They’re real, opto-analog oscillators.

The magnetic part is real, too. 2-3 second tape loops record samples, with variable-speed playback, on top of 3 one-shots that move the magnetic head along the tape (with in turn varies pitch). So you have digitally-controlled magnetic tape and opto-analog synthesis – a fusion of past and present tech. It takes the historical sound techniques, but produces a more accessible, dynamic interface with the computer – digital input, analog output.

And visitors to the exhibition get real recorded results, too – just as they would if they stepped into the historical electroacoustic studio. There’s a printout of the score, plus a digital record uploaded to a server.

The historical use of tape is reimagined with real, digitally-controlled magnetic tape sampling.

The historical gear that inspired the new invention, side by side with the results.

Visual scores accompany the sonic creations.

The Apparatum will make the trip this weekend to Karlsruhe, Germany, where it will accompany an exhibition on now through the start of next year on the historical Polish studio:

Through the Soundproof Curtain. The Polish Radio Experimental Studio

Apparatum is there from the 4th to the 12th:

https://zkm.de/en/exhibition/2018/08/apparatum

If this has picqued your interest, you can learn a lot more about the studio in this series of articles:

Polish Radio Experimental Studio: A Close Look

And the design aspect specifically:

Spatial Music: Design and the Polish Radio Experimental Studio

Now let’s check some more pr0n of the installation:

This work nicely echoes what curator Natalia Fuchs argued in our interview earlier this week – that media archaeology could lead artists to new innovations:

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

Previously, panGenerator on CDM:

FEEDBOXES are autonomous sound toys that play along with you

MICKEYPHON is a terrifying giant robot head that’s also a musical instrument

http://pangenerator.com/projects/apparatum/

The post The retro-futuristic Apparatum draws from Polish electronic music history appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Polyend’s Medusa is an expressive grid, powerful sequencer, and synth

Polish maker Polyend has one special grid – expressive sensing meets powerful sequencing and recording. And now, combined with a dedicated synth made with Dreadbox, it starts to really come alive.

The first impression of Medusa, the new instrument shown last week at Superbooth, is a little bit of a Dreadbox synth tacked into a case with the grid sequencer from Polyend’s SEQ. But that’s really not what you’re getting here. For one thing, Polyend had a hand in the synth portion of this instrument, too, suggesting new architectural features. And for another, because every single parameter on the synth side can be played live and sequenced from the grid, you really get the sense of a complete, integrated instrument.

That’s not to say that SEQ, Polyend’s expansive sequencer product, doesn’t work well at these features, too. In fact, Medusa acts as a nice calling card / advertisement for what SEQ can do. But there’s something about immediately getting sound when you press into a space on the grid that makes a big difference.

And even before you start up the step sequencer, Medusa’s grid is irresistible to play. Each pad responds to x/y/z input, not just pressure. It’s sort of the opposite of the lifeless, on/off digital feeling of the monome – every continuous variation of the finger, every movement around the pad controls the sound. (Apologies to the monome, but that to me is a significant evolution – now that we’re accustomed to the once-radical grid interactions of the monome, we might well expect this kind of expressive dimension.)

Polyend have equipped that grid with a dedicated display, and mapped every parameter from the synth. So you can play live, you can record those performances, or you can increment through steps and play or program detailed changes as steps, then play back and jam.

This is what it’s all about – deep control of parameters, which you can then assign to individual pads and automate step-by-step.

Of course, the other advantage of an integrated instrument is, you don’t have the bandwidth problems of MIDI. The internal architecture is there both for synth and sequencer, so you can modulate everything as fast as you like. (Richard Devine was on hand to turn up the bpm knob really high to test that.)

The Medusa is planned for availability August/September 2018 at 999€.

That’s 999 including VAT and shipping, so figure even a bit less in USD.

And yeah, if you want to know my favorite thing from Superbooth – this is it. It seemed to be a crowd favorite, as well.

Here are the full planned, confirmed specs as provided to CDM – though Polyend hinted there may be more in the works by launch, too. (Dreadbox may have more to say about this, too; I only had time to talk to Polyend!)

Grid/sequencer/controller:
64 customizable three-dimension-expressive pads for a controller/sequencer
Step, live, and incremental sequence modes
256 independent sequences and voice presets
Per-step sequencing of notes, parameter locks, or even entire synth voice presets
Assign X and Y pressure axis to any modulation parameter, per pad
Randomization of voice and sequence
OLED display with customizable user menus

The synth is a nice digital-analog hybrid – 3 + 3, analog + digital wavetable (and comes with its own separate OLED display):

This synth end of Medusa means business, too.

Synth:

Three analog oscillators with sync, four wave types per oscillator
Three wavetable oscillators
24dB Dreadbox analog multimode filter (2- or 4-pole lowpass, highpass)
Play modes: monophonic, paraphonic x 3, paraphonic x 6 (so you can route the digital oscillators through the analog filter, yes)
Frequency modulation for oscillators and filter
Audio input
Noise generator with color shaping

Powerful, assignable envelopes and LFOs let you shape the 3 analog + 3 digital oscillators… and all of this is accessible from the grid/sequencer, too.

Modulation + control:
5 independent LFOs, which you can route into almost anything
5 independent DADSR envelopes with looping and its own parameter assignment
Mixer for all seven analog/digital/noise voices
Separate volume control for headphone and main audio out
USB MIDI in + out and DIN MIDI in + out + thru

Here’s Piotr talking about it in a couple minutes to FACT:

Sound demo, from Bonedo:

http://polyend.com/

https://www.dreadbox-fx.com/

The post Polyend’s Medusa is an expressive grid, powerful sequencer, and synth appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.