The just-before-the-holiday-break software updates just keep coming. Next: the evergreen, lifetime-free-updates latest release of the DAW the developer calls FL Studio, and everyone else calls “Fruity Loops.”
FL Studio has given people reason to take it more seriously of late, too. There’s a real native Mac version, so FL is no longer a PC-vs-Mac thing. There’s integrated controller hardware from Akai (the new Fire), and that in turn exploits all those quick-access record and step sequence features that made people love FL in the first place.
AKAI Fire and the Mac version might make lapsed or new users interested anew – but hardcore users, this software release is really for you.
The snapshot view:
Does your DAW have a visualizer built on a game engine inside it? No? FL does. And you thought you were going to just have to make your next music video be a bunch of shaky iPhone footage you ran through some weird black and white filter. No!
Stepsequencer looping is back (previously seen in FL 11), but now has more per-channel controls so you can make polyrhythms – or not, lining everything up instead if you’d rather.
Plus if you’re using FIRE hardware, you get options to set channel loop length and the ability to burn to Patterns.
Audio recording is improved, making it easier to arm and record and get audio and pre/post effects where you want.
Actually, you know, I’m just going to stop -t here’s just a whole bunch of new stuff, and you get it for free. And they’ve made a YouTube video. And as you watch the tutorial, it’s evident that FL really has matured into a serious DAW to stand toe-to-toe with everything else, without losing its personality.
Teenage Engineering’s OP-Z takes everything the mysterious Swedish maker has done in the past years and packs it into a candy bar-sized hunk of awesome. The first feature reveals and videos of the final creation are inbound, showing it doing some weird and wonderful things.
First, what is the OP-Z? (O-P-Zee for Americans, O-P-Zed for the rest of the world.) It’s an ultra-compact digital synth with loads of sequencing and groove features. It feels terrific in the hand – nicely heavy, but with the width of the beloved iPhone 5 so it’s easy to hold. (I don’t have a review unit yet, but I have gotten to try it.)
The main focus of the instrument: sequencing, so you can create elaborate patterns of synthesized sounds, as part of a rig or on its own, for on-the-go and studio creation or live performance.
What it doesn’t have is a screen; you connect a smartphone or tablet for that on the go. And so the basic idea is, it combines some of the compact game-style ideas of TE products like the Pocket Operators with the powerful synth and sequence workflow of the OP-1. It does more than all those past creations combined, though, and the Teenagers are pushing some unique possibilities for visual creation.
Your iPad or iPhone is the display and multi-touch editor / expanded sequencer for the OP-Z. (No Android support yet, but there are some unique PC visual integrations, too.)
The OP-Z ships worldwide for EUR599, and at the moment it’s sold out. That situation may ease as the Teenagers ramp up production.
But the OP-Z seems to have the most attention at the moment of any digital product, in contrast to sought-after analog instruments like the Moog One.
And sure, while some of this is more predictable – sample packs of drum sounds, effects like delay and reverb, – some of it is decidedly more left-field.
The most surprising features so far
The biggest surprises of the OP-Z:
1. It’s polymetric and does automatic melodic analysis. 1-144-step patterns let you create different rhythms on different tracks, and automatic melodic analysis gives you easier transposition.
2. Wireless display. iOS devices – iPhone, iPad – give you wireless displays and multi-touch input, and they’re remarkably responsive, enough so to play live.
3. The microphone is connected to the accelerometer. Yeah, this thing knows if you hold it up to your mouth.
4. Luxe texture. At first I thought this surface was a process applied after manufacture, but TE say they’ve added glass fibers into the body during injection molding. That makes the OP-Z feel expensive and grippy – so you don’t drop it. It’s not quite like anything you’ve touched before, and they’re promising serious durability.
5. It’s a spiritual successor to the Game Boy Camera. This wouldn’t be a TE product without some nod to the weirder side of Nintendo. This time, you get rapid-fire “photomatic” sequences a bit like on the Game Boy’s camera mode, which you can sync to the music. Of course. Or maybe you should think of it as a GIF creator. Either way, back to the 90s.
6. It’s a VJ instrument and immersive audiovisual tool. This is wild enough that we’ll need a separate story on it, this being CDM. But think Unity 3D integration.
This has relevance not just for the OP-Z but anyone interested in MIDI control of 3D visuals in Unity, since they’ve released the entire toolkit on Github:
Plus there’s even a dedicated track for controlling lighting (via the industry standard DMX protocol)? Not sure how you connect this, exactly, but it’s a cool add-on – and someone may want to rig up some DIY solution with light bulbs as in their demo.
7. Tons of expandability is planned. Teenage Engineering are promising new effects, firmware updates, expansion via hardware ports, and more.
YouTube celebrity Andrew Huang has the highest production values of the first OP-Z videos, and gives you a snapshot review.
More depth comes from Cuckoo, who’s don an extensive mega tutorial (and is just getting started, it seems):
Microwavez shows how you’d combine this with an iPad:
Here’s what it looks like making a beat, via Brandon Guerra:
Forget about gear fetish: the delightful surprise behind the modular movement is that a whole bunch of people are interested in exploring weird new musical ideas. And one of the sequencer modules at the heart of it is getting a big refresh.
The René module wouldn’t strike anyone as something that’d turn into a big hit. This is an esoteric little device: a grid of touchplates and a bunch of knobs, which you then spaghetti-wire into other modules to make, uh, odd patterns.
But making weird patterns you can then shift around – well, that’s a lot of fun. And René liberated modular rigs from one of their major weaknesses: too often, people were stuck with rigid step sequencers that produced overly repetitive loops that would drive you insane. Basically, the “Cartesian” bit is, instead of having a line (those marching steps), you get a grid (x + Y).
So, here comes the René refresh. This is three-dimensional chess to the original model’s checkers.
The new model is three channels instead of one, three dimensional sequencing instead of two, and boasts expanded memory so you can save up to 64 states – no more long modular performances that sound great for the first three minutes and then … sort of exactly like that for the next hour, too.
This “three-axis” business is maybe a little exaggerated, but basically what you get is z-axis touch sensitivity, so added expression. Combine that with three channels of output, though, and you can in fact route a lot more control from this one module than before. And no doubt the additional memory will be useful in performance.
Here’s the full feature set:
3 CV outputs for controlling pitch or timbre
3 Gate outputs for generating musical events
Snake and Cartesian patterns available simultaneously
STORE all Programming in one of 64 STATEs.
New Z-Axis allows for modulating through any combination of 64 STOREd STATEs
All programming done real-time, programming of René is a key performance element
Visualization of pattern activity always displayed on left half with 16 illuminated Knobs
Visual indication of Programming always displayed on right half with 16 illuminated touch buttons
Communicates w/ TEMPI via Select Bus to Select, Store, Revert, Multi-Paste and MESH STATEs
Maximum amount of artist controlled musical variation, derived from minimum amount of analog data input
All new touch sensing technology tested successfully on the most commonly used euro rack power solutions
Of course, since the René first came out, it’s gotten a lot more competition. So it could be fun to see how this stacks up against other modular (and desktop, or software, even) sequencers.
Since that’s my monthly rent, it’s worth saying Eurorack is still pricey relative to some lower-cost desktop hardware, to say nothing of computers. Clever software patching is great if you’re broke, or if you’ve a little scratch, something like Five12 Numerology.
But that said, this no doubt will go high on people’s shopping lists in the modular world – and it’s an impressive piece of work. Look forward to seeing more.