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MIDI evolves, adding more expressiveness and easier configuration

It’s been a long time coming, but MIDI now officially has added MPE and “capability inquiry,” opening up new expression and automatic configuration.

MIDI, of course, is the lingua franca of music gear. AKA “Musical Instrument Digital Interface,” the protocol first developed in the early 80s and has been a common feature on computers and gear and quite a few oddball applications ever since. And it’s a bit of a myth that MIDI itself hasn’t changed since its 80s iteration. Part of that impression is because MIDI has remained backwards compatible, meaning changes haven’t been disruptive. But admittedly, the other reason musicians think about MIDI in this way is that the stuff they most use indeed has remained fairly unchanged.

Engineers and musicians alike have clamored for expanded resolution and functionality ever since MIDI’s adoption. The announcements made by the MIDI Manufacturers Association aren’t what has commonly been called “HD MIDI” – that is, you don’t get any big changes to the way data is transmitted. But the announcements are significant nonetheless, because they make official stuff you can use in real musical applications, and they demonstrate the MMA can ratify official changes (with big hardware maker partners onboard). Oh, and they’re really cool.

Standardizing on new expressive ways of playing

First, there’s MIDI Polyphonic Expression, aka MPE. The name says it all: it allows you to add additional expression to more than one note at a time. So, you’ve always been able to layer expression on a single note – via aftertouch, for instance – but now instead of just one note and one finger, an instrument can respond to multiple notes and multiple fingers independently. That means every fingertip on an instrument like the ROLI Seaboard can squish and bend, and a connected sound instrument can respond or a DAW can record the results.

Hardware has found ways of hacking in this support, and plug-ins that require complex per-note information (think orchestral sound libraries and the like) have had their own mechanisms. But now there’s a single standard, and it’s part of MIDI.

MPE is exciting because it’s really playable, and it’s already got some forward momentum. Major DAWs like Logic and Cubase support it, as do synths like Native Instruments’ Reaktor and Moog’s Animoog. Hardware like the ROLI gear and Roger Linn’s Linnstrument send MPE, but there’s now even hardware receiving it, too, and translating to sound – even without a computer. (That’s not just weird keyboards, either – Madrona Labs’ Soundplane showed this could work with new instrument interfaces, too.)

Making MPE official should improve implementations already out there, and standardize inter-operability. And it means no more excuses for software that hasn’t picked it up – yeah, I’m looking at you, Ableton. Those developers could (reasonably) say they didn’t want to move forward until everyone agreed on a standard, to avoid implementing the thing twice. Well, now, it’s time.

More demos and product compatibility information is in the news, though of course this also means soon we should do a fresh check-in on what MPE is and how to use it, especially with a lot of ROLI hardware out there these days.

MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) Specification Adopted!

Making instruments self-configure and work together

MPE you might have heard of, but there’s a good chance you haven’t heard about the second announcement, “Capability Inquiry” or MIDI-CI. In some ways, though, MIDI-CI is the really important news here – both in that it’s the first time the MIDI protocol would work in a new way, and because it involves the Japanese manufacturers.

MIDI-CI does three things. Here’s their official name, plus what each bit means:

1. Profile configuration – “Hey, here’s what I am!”. Profiles define in advance what a particular instrument does. Early demos included an “Analog Synth” and a “Drawbar Organ” draft. You already know channel 10 will give you drum sounds, and General MIDI drum maps will put a kick and a snare in a particular place, but you haven’t been able to easily control particular parameters without going through your rig and setting it up yourself.

2. Property exchange – save and recall. If configuration tells you what a device is and what it does, the “exchange” bit lets you store and recall settings. Last week, manufacturers showed gear from Yamaha, Roland, and Korg having their instrument settings saved and recalled from a DAW.

MMA say the manufacturers demonstrated “total recall.” Awesome.

3. Protocol negotiation – the future is coming. Actually, this is probably the most important. Profile configuration and property exchange, we’ll need to see in action before we can judge in terms of utility. But protocol negotiation is the bit that will allow gear now to build in the ability to negotiate next-generation protocols coming soon. That’s what has been commonly called “HD MIDI,” and what hopefully will bring greater data resolution and, ideally, time stamps. Those are features that some have found in alternative protocols like Open Sound Control or in proprietary implementations, but which aren’t available in standard MIDI 1.0.

And this “negotiation” part is really important. A future protocol won’t break MIDI 1.0 compatibility. Gear built now with protocol negotiation in mind may be able to support the future protocol when it arrives.

As musicians, as hackers, as developers, we’re always focused on the here and now. But the protocol negotiation addition to MIDI 1.0 is an essential step between what we have now and what’s coming.

No gear left behind

For all the convervatism of musical instruments, it’s worth noting how different this is from the rest of electronics. Backwards compatibility is important for musical instruments, because a musical instrument never really becomes outmoded. (Hey, I spent long, happy evenings singing with some violas da gamba. Trust me on this.)

The MIDI-CI adoption process here, while it’s not the most exciting thing ever, also indicates more buy-in to the future of MIDI by the big Japanese manufacturers. And that finally means the AMEI is backing the MMA.

Say what?

While even many music nerds know only the MIDI Manufacturers Association, significant changes to MIDI require another organization called the Association of Musical Electronics Industries – AMEI. The latter is the trade group for Japan, and … well, those Japanese manufacturers make gear on a scale that a lot of the rest of the industry can’t even imagine. Keep in mind, while music nerds drool over the Eurorack modular explosion, a whole lot of the world is buying home pianos and metronomes and has no idea about the rest. Plus, you have to calculate not only a different scale and a more corporate culture, but the fact that a Japanese organization involves Japanese culture and language. Yes, there will be a gap between their interests and someone making clever Max/MSP patches back in the States and dreaming of MIDI working differently.

So MIDI-CI is exciting both because it suggests that music hardware will communicate better and inter-operate more effectively, but also in that it promises music humans to do the same.

But here again is where the craft of music technology is really different from industries like digital graphics and video, or consumer electronics, or automobiles, or many other technologies. Decisions are made by a handful of people, very slowly, which then result in mass usage in a myriad of diverse cultural use cases around the world.

The good news is, it seems those decision makers are listening – and the language that underlies digital music is evolving in a way that could impact that daily musical usage.

And it’ll do so without breaking the MIDI we’ve been using since the early 80s.

Watch this space.

http://midi.org/

The post MIDI evolves, adding more expressiveness and easier configuration appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

80’s Proto Machines brings back E-mu SP-12 & Linn 9000

Multiton Bits 80s Proto MachinesMultiton Bits has announced the release of a new sample pack with a collection of sounds from two classic machines. 80’s Proto Machines features 234 royalty free audio files created with the E-mu SP-12 and Linn 9000 samplers/drum machines, revived and sampled in 24-bit using high quality preamps and compressors. The pack also comes with […]

Behringer’s so-called “website glitch” trades credibility for buzz

The day after Behringer posted a lineup of remakes of classic analog synth and drum machines, the company is calling it an error – and making no promises.

One one level, you can’t blame Behringer. You surely don’t need press conferences at pricey trade shows if you can mess around with buzz spread on forums and social media. And I’m surprised more manufacturers don’t devise some way of using that to their advantage – perhaps more honestly than here.

But you can blame Behringer for dissembling in communication, for setting out to harm competitors, and for mucking about with the trust of customers. All three of those things appear to have happened here.

In short: Behringer are again earning buzz, at the expense of the already questionable credibility of the brand.

Let’s review:

Yesterday, Behringer for the better part of the evening German time published complete product specs for drum machines and synthesizers, across multiple categories on their public website. That included references to a wide array of products from the KORG MS-20 to the Roland 808 and 909 to ARP 2600 and various other historical models.

Then, at 4 am German time, the company published the follow apology/correction or … whatever this is … to their Facebook page:

Dear Friends,
It was brought to our attention that early this morning a rather unfortunate error occurred on the Behringer product page. This error mistakenly posted information for a number of different product design concepts from our product management repository which is contained and part of an automated backend system for our websites. The cause of the error was due to a website glitch and was completely unintentional. The moment we realized the error, we removed the content.
As we are owning the mistake, we also feel it’s necessary to inform the public about this error as a sign of good faith. It was not our intention to mislead customers in any way nor use this as a marketing tool. To be perfectly transparent, the leaked information does not imply any availability at this time or even definitive evidence that we intend to officially develop or deliver these products in the future. At this stage, the leaked products are merely concepts and nothing more.
To be honest we are embarrassed by this glitch and sincerely apologize to you who have been so supportive of our efforts over the years. We greatly appreciate your support and understanding of the situation.

Sorry, assume a few people spit coffee on their computers there. “Automated backend system for our websites”?

This line we’ve heard before, too – that Behringer appears to view teasing products as a kind of trial balloon for measuring demand. The difference is, in the past, at least, they said that was what they were doing – they didn’t do it via a staged site bug.

Let’s talk about why this is problematic.

Fake news? Fake drums? Real Oberheim… Retro Synth Ad.

Behringer are being disingenuous in their communication. More bluntly: it’s very likely that they’re flat-out lying – or at least being tongue-in-cheek about this whole thing. Sure, it’s possible they keep product planning documents in the content management system they use for the site. And maybe then they use the production server for the task rather than a backup. And maybe they somehow automatically, accidentally published that same content to a production server publicly.

Though, if that sequence of events actually happened, uh, to the Web team … wow. Either way:

This encourages customers to delay purchasing competitors. This isn’t just about getting buzz. By hinting that Behringer will have low-cost alternatives of stuff users want, the brand can encourage customers to hold off purchasing shipping products from companies like KORG, Roland, and Moog. Indeed, specifically teasing recognizable products targets those competitors even more explicitly. And there’s anecdotal evidence to think there’s harm there, based on impressions on forums and comments. Even if that isn’t the case, retailers read those same threads, and this can spook them.

Uli Behringer’s extended rants about value and price, which imply (I think unfairly) that competitors’ products should be cheaper, also seems related to this strategy.

Behringer are hurting their own relationship with customers. I actually would encourage those same competitors to focus on this. Behringer are now over-promising in a pretty fantastic way. If they don’t ship this stuff, customers are likely to be disappointed with Behringer, not other companies.

And sure enough —

They’re still not shipping their Model D. Way back in March, Behringer were promising a low-cost Minimoog clone. But that clone still isn’t shipping, or seen on the site here – a fact not lost on social media (or CDM commenters).

They’re not exactly making the Curtis family happy, either. This is what the widow of Doug Curtis had to say about Behringer offering remakes of her late husband’s chips:

We are starting to see authorized chip remakes, however, as a competitors to what Ms. Curtis is referencing here. (COOLAUDIO Semiconductors have made the inexpensive chips that likely formed the basis for the product ideas above.)

Just don’t read too much into this. This understandably has generated a lot of buzz in December, a lull during which most manufacturers are focused on holiday sales, with product announcements mostly paused until late January.

But I think most people wanting a new drum machine, or a Roland Boutique, or KORG’s ARP recreations, or new Eurorack modules, on down the list are likely to go ahead and invest anyway. I think the relationships between those brands and their customers – from the Japanese giants to the one-person Eurorack boutique makers – are safe, too.

If this was (improbably) a mistake, Behringer, fix it. If it wasn’t, well – yeah, expect some of us to question your intentions.

The post Behringer’s so-called “website glitch” trades credibility for buzz appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Behringer go nuts, plan to clone every historic synth, drum machine

The ARP 2600, Octave’s The Cat, the Synthi VCS3, Korg MS-20, the Wasp, the 909, the 808, and more… it seems Behringer are going to make cheap versions of just about everything.

In placeholder product pages on their site, you’ll see a whole bunch of remakes of historic classics, from synths to drum machines, Synthi to Roland. Product images aren’t there yet, but a lot of these will ship as keyboard instruments.

Also, in what could disrupt the boutique-heavy modular market, Eurorack versions appear to be planned for many or all of these.

Products:

Synths and Samplers at Music Tribe

Drum Machines

Pricing and availability aren’t there, either, but the timing now suggests that NAMM is coming – and Behringer seem to be in the habit now of pre-empting rivals by teasing stuff before they announce it. (Whether that’s meant to take the wind out of the sails of rival press events, or spook competitors, or amp up would-be customers, or a combination, tough to know.)

The models:

Synthopia break down the synth side of this, bringing together specs and including some videos of the original models:
http://www.synthtopia.com/content/2017/12/13/behringer-teases-arp-2600-wasp-synthi-clones/

But there are drum machines there, too: 808, 909, “999,” an apparent Linn Drum clone (LMX) and Oberheim DMX (OMX here). Synthananatomy.com has a run-down of those:

http://www.synthanatomy.com/2017/12/the-next-bomb-has-burst-behringer-teased-5-new-analog-digital-drum-machines-lmx-omx-rd-999-rd-808-rd-909.html

Some of the product names get slightly scrambled, but others don’t.

Of course, this also means Behringer are now getting into remakes of products whose creators and original brands still exist – KORG, Roland, Roger Linn, Tom Oberheim, and so on. It’s not unexpected – they’ve got access to inexpensive analog filters and oscillators that exactly replicate the originals.

But it does suggest a shakeout is about to happen in the business, especially if these prices are disruptive. Will customers still be willing to pay more for independent makers (let alone other big brands)? Will the availability of cheap remakes make it tough to bring out new designs – or, alternatively, will it effectively mandate coming out with something new to compete?

For now, we’re in the position we so often are with Behringer: speculating, as the brand gets way ahead of everyone else with a teaser, long before the specifics of price and design emerge. And that seems to be part of the design.

But this story may not end here. It’s possible giants like Roland and KORG could find legal reason to go after Behringer, depending on how the products are presented. They might also find other mechanisms in marketing and sales to take action.

You’ll find specs on Behringer’s site. Let us know what you think.

ARP image (CC-BY) Rosa Menkman.

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