Recording Sequences With The 1010music Blackbox

The Blackbox is a standalone sampler and groovebox that lets you record, save/load, apply effects and edit one-shot samples and beat-sliced loops.… Read More Recording Sequences With The 1010music Blackbox

1010music Blackbox Touchscreen Sampler Now Available

The Blackbox is a standalone sampler and groovebox that lets you record, save/load, apply effects and edit one-shot samples and beat-sliced loops.… Read More 1010music Blackbox Touchscreen Sampler Now Available

Gigantic 16-Track Drum Computer At Superbooth 2019

At Superbooth 2019, we talked with Robaux developer Robert Menzel, who gave us a hands-on demo of his ginormous 16-track drum computer – a scaled-up version of his SWT16+ 16-Track trigger sequencer.… Read More Gigantic 16-Track Drum Computer At Superbooth 2019

The Snyderphonics Manta Offers A Unique Way To Control Your Synthesizers

At Superbooth 2019, we talked with designer Jeff Snyder of Snyderphonics, who gave us an overview and demo of his unique Manta controller and a companion Eurorack module, MantaMate.… Read More The Snyderphonics Manta Offers A Unique Way To Control Your Synthesizers

1010music Blackbox, Euro Module Updates At Superbooth 2019

At Superbooth 2019, we talked with 1010music’s Aaron Higgins, who gave us a quick demo of his new Blackbox sampling workstation, and updates to his line of touchscreen Eurorack modules. … Read More 1010music Blackbox, Euro Module Updates At Superbooth 2019

One big, open standalone grid for playing everything: dadamachines composer pro

Various devices have tried to do what the computer does – letting you play, sequence, and clock other instruments, and arrange and recall ideas. Now, a new grid is in town, and it’s bigger, more capable, truly standalone, and open in every way.

composer pro makes its debut today at Superbooth. It comes from what may seem an unexpected source – dadamachines, the small Berlin-based maker known for making a plug-in-play toolkit for robotic percussion and, more recently, a clever developer board. But there’s serious engineering and musical experience informing the project.

What you get is an enormous, colored grid with triggers and display, and connectivity – wired and wireless – to other hardware. From this one device, you can then compose, connect, and perform. It’s a sequencer for outboard gear, but it’s also capable of playing internal sounds and effects.

It’s a MIDI router, a USB host, a sampler and standalone instrument, and a hub to clock everything else. It doesn’t need a computer – and yeah, it can definitely replace that laptop if you want, or keep it connected and synced via cable or Ableton Link.

And one more thing – while big manufacturers are starting to wake up to this sort of thing being a product category, composer pro is also open source and oriented toward communities of small makers and patchers who have been working on this problem. So out of the box, it’s set up to play Pure Data, SuperCollider, and other DIY instruments and effects, extending ideas for standalone instrument/effects developed by the likes of monome and Critter & Guitari’s Organelle. That should be significant both if you’re that sort of builder/hacker/patcher yourself, or even if you just want to benefit from their creations in your own music. And it’s in contrast to the proprietary direction most hardware has gone in recent years. It’s open to ideas and to working together on how to play – which is how grid performance got started in the first place.

Disclosure: I’m working with dadamachines as an advisor/coach. That also means I’ll be responsible for getting feedback to them – curious what you think. (And yeah, I also have some ideas and desires for where these sorts of capabilities could lead in the future. As a lot of you have, I’ve dreamt of electronic musical performance tools moving in this direction – I love computers but also hate some of the struggles they’ve brought with them.)

The hardware

I hope you like buttons. Composer Pro has a 192-pad grid – that’s 16 horizontally by 12 vertically. Add in the rest of the triggers for a grad total of 261 buttons – transport and modes on the top, and the usual scene and arm triggers on the side, plus edit controls and other functions on the left.

For continuous control, there’s a touch strip. And you get a small display and encoder so you can navigate and see what you’re doing.

There’s computational power inside, too – a Raspberry Pi compute module, and additional processing power that runs the device.

Connections

You get just about every form of connectivity (apart from CV/gate, even though this is Superbooth):

Sequencing and clock:

MIDI (via standard DIN connectors, 2 in, 2 out)
DIN sync (for vintage analog gear like the Roland TR-808)
Analog sync I/O (for other analog gear and modular)
USB MIDI (via USB C, for a computer)
USB host, with a 4-port USB hub
Ableton Link (for wireless connections, including to various Mac, Windows, Linux, and iOS software)
Footswitch jack

(There’s a dongle for wifi for Link support.)

Audio:

Headphone jack
Stereo audio in
Stereo audio out

The USB host and 4-port hub is a really big deal. It means you can do the things that normally require a computer – connect other interfaces, add more audio I/O, add USB MIDI keyboards and controllers, whatever.

Sequences and songs

At its heart, composer pro focuses on sequencing – whether you want to work with custom internal instruments, external gear, or both.

You have sixteen slots, which dadamachines dubs “Machines.” Then, you can work with simple step-sequenced rhythms or mono-/polyphonic melodies, and add automation of parameters (via MIDI CC).

Pattern sequences can be up to 16 bars.

There are 12 patterns per Machine slot. (16×12 – get it?)

Patterns + Machines = larger songs. And you can have as many songs as you can fit on an SD card (which, given this is MIDI data is … a lot).

The beauty of dadamachines’ approach is, by building this around the grid, you can work in a lot of different ways:

Step-sequence melodies and rhythms in a standard grid view.

Play live – there’s even a MIDI looper – and use standard quantization tools, or not, to decide how much you want your performance to be on the grid.

Trigger patterns one at a time, or in scenes.

Use the touchstrip for additional live control, with beat repeat functions, polyrhythmic loop length, nudge, and velocity (the pads aren’t velocity sensitive, though you can also use an external controller with velocity).

Now you see the logic behind having this enormous 16×12 grid – everything is visible at once. Most hardware, and even devices like Ableton Push, require you to navigate around to individual parts; there’s no way to see the overall sequence. You can bring up dedicated grid pages if you want to focus on playing a particular part or editing a sequence. But there’s an overview page so you also get the big picture – and trigger everything, without menu diving.

dadamachines have set up four views:

Song View – think interactive set list

Scene View – all your available Patterns and Machines

Machine View – focus on one particular instrument and input

Performance View – transform an existing pattern without changing it

And remember, this can be both external gear and internal instruments – with some nice ready-to-play instruments included in the package, or the ability to make your own (in Pd and SuperCollider) if you’re more advanced.

It’s already set up to work with ORAC, the powerful instrument by technobear, featured on the Organelle from Critter & Guitari:

– showing what can happen as devices are open, collaborative, and compatible.

When can you get this?

composer pro is being shown in a fully working – very nice looking – prototype. That also means a chance to get more feedback from musicians.

dadamachines say they plan to put this on sale in late summer.

It’s an amazing accomplishment from an engineering standpoint, from the hands-on time I’ve had with it. I know velocity-sensitive pads will be a disappointment, but I think that also means you’ll be able to afford this and get hardware that’s reliable – and you can always use the touchstrip or connect other hardware for expression.

It also goes beyond what sequencers like the just-announced Pioneer Squid can do, and offers a more intuitive interface than a lot of other boutique offerings – and its openness could support a community exploring ideas. That’s what originally launched grid performance in the first place with monome, but got lost as monome quantities were limited and commercial manufacturers chose to take a proprietary approach.

Stay tuned to CDM as this evolves.

https://dadamachines.com/products/composer-pro/

Press release:

dadamachines announces grid based midi performance sequencer composer pro

composer pro is the new hub for electronic musicians, a missing link for sketching ideas and playing live. It’s a standalone sampler and live instrument, and connects to everything in a studio or onstage, for clock and patterns. And it’s open source and community-powered, ensuring it’s only getting started.

Edit patterns by step, play live on the pads and touch strip, use external controllers – it’s your choice. Sequence and clock external gear, or work with onboard instruments. Clock your whole studio or stage full of gear – and sync via wires or wirelessly.

Finally, there’s a portable device that gives you the control you need, and the big picture on your ideas, while connecting the instruments you want to play. And yes, you’re free to leave the computer at home.

composer pro will be shown to the public the first time at superbooth in Berlin from 9-11th of may. Sales start is planned for late summer 2019.

Play:

Use a massive, RGB, 16×12 grid of pads
192 triggers – 261 buttons in total – but organized, clear, and easy
Step sequence or play live
Melodic and rhythmic/drum modes
MIDI looper
Work with quantization or unquantized
Play on the pads or use external controllers
Touch strip for expression, live sequence transformations, note repeat, and more

Stay connected:

MIDI input/output and sync (via USB-C with computer, USB host, and MIDI DIN)
Analog sync (modular, analog gear)
DIN sync support (for vintage instruments like the TR-808)
USB host – with a built-in 4-port hub
Abeton Link support (USB wifi dongle required for wireless use)
Stereo audio in
Stereo audio out
Headphone, footswitch

Onboard sounds and room to grow:

Internal instruments and effects
Powered by open source sound engines, with internal Raspberry Pi computer core
Includes ORAC by technobear, a powerful sequenced sampler
Arrange productions and set lists:
Full automation sequencing (via MIDI CC)
Trigger patterns, scenes, songs
16-measure sequences, 12 scenes per song
Unlimited song storage (restricted only by SD card capacity)

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Pioneer Squid is a monster standalone sequencer for your gear

Forget for a second that Pioneer is the CDJ and DJM company. Their latest TORAIZ goes a radical new direction – making what might be the biggest mainstream hardware sequencer since the MPC and Octatrack.

But a deep sequencer with MIDI and CV, for 599€ (awaiting US pricing details) – that sounds like a blockbuster.

The rise of gear for making sound has left a fairly significant hole in the market. You’ve got tons of drum machines, tons of synths, tons of grooveboxes, and then a whole black hole of semi-modular and fully-modular instruments.

But what about making, you know – a song? There aren’t so many choices for actually pulling together rhythms and melodies on all those toys. You’ve got a mishmash of internal sequencing features and devices capable of multiple tracks. But there are limited options beyond that – used Akai MPCs, the Elektron Octatrack, and Arturia BeatStep Pro being most common. The Arturia piece is cheap and cheery – and shows up astride an amazing number of fancy Eurorack rigs, prized for its simplicity. But having just dusted mine off, I find its sequencing really limited.

So here’s the surprise: the company that promises a really deep sequencer, one with elaborate rhythmic features that happily get you off the grid and bending time if you want, is … Pioneer.

The SQUID is certainly in a funny position. On one hand, it’s a natural for real gearheads and synth nerds. On the other, it’s a Pioneer product, so you can bet marketing and DJ press alike will try to say this is about “DJs getting into production” or … something. (No! DJs! Stop while you still can have a social life and, like, money in your bank account! You’ll become broke antisocial hermits like the rest of us!)

But – who cares who this is for? What it does appears to do … is a hell of a lot. And while it might actually have too many features (that will be I think the main element of any test), what’s surprising is that it isn’t a me-too sequencer. Despite the pads and step structure, Pioneer have made an effort to let musicians get off the grid and bend and warp time – so maybe drum machines can have soul again.

First, the predictable bit – it is a pad-based step sequencer, yes:

16 multicolored LED rubber pads with velocity sensitivity
Step record patterns
Live / real-time recording
Scale mode
Per-step automation recording (at least it seems that way – “parameter locks” or p-locks as known to users of other hardware)
Interpolation – this lets you set a beginning, middle, and end on steps and let the machine transition between them, a bit like creating automated envelopes
Harmonizer with up to six chords assigned to buttons
Chord mode with 18 built-in chord sets (I’m curious how customizable this is, as I’d rather the machine not make harmonies for me)
Transpose phrases on the fly
Up to five MIDI CCs on external devices
Randomizer (which covers everything, even CCs)
Pattern Set – this is interesting; it lets you lock in a combination of patterns into an arrangement, a bit like you can do with scenes in Ableton Live

And you can run sequences in different directions (bounce, reverse, whatever), as expected.

Multiple loops. Trigger probability – yeah, Pioneer are ready to take on Elektron here.

Already appealing and powerful, but it’s the real-time manipulation features that go in a new direction.

Speed modulation: look out, locked-bpm techno, because the SQUID can modulate speeds via six waveform shapes (triangle, sawtooth – please tell me there’s a random/S&H mode, too)

Groove bend: yes, there’s Swing, but there’s also “Groove Bend” which lets you use a slider to change timing. (I really hope there’s a way to optionally impact pitch, too, CDJ-style.)

Instant double-, half- speed triggers, too.

You can also shift the Scale and Arpeggiator knobs in real time, meaning… yeah, you can go super free jazz with this if you want.

There’s even an automatic mode that saves your jams even when you don’t hit record. (Ableton Live recently introduced this feature, joining a number of DAWs that have had it over the years.)

And yeah, it works with USB, MIDI, 2 sets of CV/gate, clock and DIN sync. It’s ready for your hardware from the 80s until now.

There’s even software for managing sequence patterns, projects, and MIDI clips – so you can save your work librarian style for live performances, and finish off tracks on the computer with patterns you made on the hardware.

Specs: 64 steps, 8 notes per step, 64 patterns, 128 projects.

I mean – we are sure this is a Pioneer product, right? Did someone get into our brains and make what we want?

I have a lot of questions. Step resolution seems fixed at 32nd notes, without mention of tuplets or other rhythms. I don’t see a listing for ppq resolution (the timing resolution of the sequencer). Performance reliability is something to test. Pioneer talks polyrhythms but I have some questions there.

But – wow. Yes. Let’s test this. Pioneer have so far given us some strange and mostly expensive “producer” devices lately, but this is different. This looks like it has the first shot of being the Pioneer gear every producer wants to buy – not just the Pioneer gear you use when you show up at the club. I can’t wait to get my hands on this so we can share with you what it does and how it might (or might not) fit your needs.

Obligatory promo video. Uh… someone stole Native Instruments’ typography and sci-fi light effects. But no matter – Pioneer made this device before NI did. (Okay, I’m buying the next round of beers in Kreuzberg after that comment, sorry, but it had to be said.)

The competition? It’s boutique, for sure, but the Synthstrom Deluge is the real rival:

It’s more compact than the Pioneer. And this really comes down to whether you want a 4×4 grid with a lot of dedicated triggers, or a whole bunch of pads and the Synthstrom’s nested editing capabilities. What’s really, really nice about the Deluge is, it has an internal synth engine and even sample playback. And ironically, that makes the Deluge better suited than Pioneer’s offering to taking a live project into a DJ booth – because you don’t have to reserve an entire table full of gear just to make sounds. That said, I think making a product dedicated to sequencing does free up the designers to focus on that workflow.

There should be room for both in the market; the workflow is very different, even apart from Synthstrom’s internal sound engine.

I feel bad I haven’t given the Deluge more time on CDM, so – now, no more excuses, I’ll get both these units in for a proper test.

All product details:

https://www.pioneerdj.com/en-us/product/production/toraiz-squid/black/overview/

I’m a child of the 80s, but every time Pioneer writes that this is “the heartbeat of your studio,” I think of old Chevrolet “heartbeat of America” ads. Is that just me? Okay, it’s just me.

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nanoloop reborn as standalone, Game Boy-inspired groovebox

nanoloop, beginning life as a Game Boy cartridge, helped ignite a craze in chip music by intuitively combining sequencing and sound. Now, its creator wants to make his own hardware.

And — while I hope you read what I have to say, you almost don’t need to do anything other than watch this tantalizing demo:

It’s really hard to describe nanoloop just in terms of specs. The music tool has seen iterations on original Game Boy plus Game Boy Advance generation, in addition to iOS and Android apps. It wasn’t the only Game Boy cartridge embraced by musicians – LSDJ (Little Sound DJ) was also beloved by artists, more in the conventional tracker model. And just talking about the particulars of the synth architecture below also makes this sound crude.

But there’s something uniquely magical about nanoloop, the one-man invention of developer Oliver Wittchow. The software is minimalistic and elegant, reduced to a simple grid. You can pick it up and make things happen right away, making it friendlier than rivals to newcomers – you can be led by instinct, without having to understand concepts like “tracker” sequencing. And then more depth unveils itself in time. The result is an instrument that melds sequencer and sound, in a way only a handful of instruments ever have – the Roland TB-303 being an obvious comparison.

The sound of Nintendo’s Game Boy hardware was also integral to nanoloop’s appeal – augmented later by Oliver’s own software-based FM synth.

nanoloop hardware, therefore, is a big breakthrough. It recreates the signature sound established by its Nintendo predecessor. It boils down that intuitive grid into a hardware design. And it keeps the arcade-style controls – perfectly positioned for use with your thumbs, and keeping the whole package compact.

Plus the Kickstarter project – which has already crossed its funding threshold – starts at just 97EUR for hardware. That prices this only slightly above the cost of the Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator line, with I think a far more interesting interface and sound.

In other words, once this ships, I think it’s overnight the most interesting budget synth and mobile sound-making hardware.

And it’s really packed with everything you’d want – battery power, sync (both via MIDI and CV), tons of musical features for messing with patterns, and the ability to store patterns on microSD card or even an audio cable if you … forget the card. (Have you ever done that? Me, never. Never, ever, ever forgot an … okay.)

Kickstarter project

http://nanoloop.de/

Full specs:

synthesizer

4 channels:
dual square wave with true analog filter (mono)
4-voice polyphonic FM (stereo)
monophonic FM (stereo)
noise & clicks (stereo)

sequencer

4×4 matrix
per-step control for all parameters
pattern transpose for all parameters
“meta step”: play note only every 2nd or 4th loop
variable pattern length per channel
individual channel tempo
ping pong and random modes
shift pattern in four directions
randomise all parameters

display

8×4 bi-color LED dot matrix
5 LED digits
8 menu icons
various color combinations available

interface

silicone rubber buttons with plastic caps:
d-pad + 4 buttons
volume dial

connections

3.5 mm mini jack stereo headphone/line out
3.5 mm mini jack input for CV and MIDI sync
3.5 mm mini jack output for CV and MIDI sync

case

bent acrylic glass

power

2 x AAA batteries, micro USB (power only)
physical power switch -> zero “standby” power
battery life: 50+ h

memory

99 banks à 4×8 patterns each
song 999 patterns length
backup / restore via audio cable
micro-SD slot for near infinite projects (SD-card not included)

sync

MIDI sync in & out
analog 1/24, 1/16, 1/8 in & out

dimensions

12 x 6 x 2.5 cm, 100 g (incl. batteries)

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Behringer Crave synth: vintage bits, all the extras, $199

Behringer left its big gear salvo for the year for last – Crave is a compact, patchable synth with arp and sequencer for US$199.

Behringer’s gear announcements this year stuck mostly to safe bets – clones of a whole lot of Roland gear (SH-101, TR-808, vocoder, modular) and the ARP Odyssey – and most of those the company had revealed in some form long before the NAMM show. More on that separately. But that meant the company hadn’t done what they did with semi-modular Neutron, which was make something distinctive.

All of that might have continued to cement the association of Behringer with clones – but then we get this.

Behringer Crave is a new semi-modular synth. It takes some of those components that made the retro remakes possible, but puts them in a new form – and with the price really, really low. So the Crave has the oscillator from the Sequential Prophet 5 (and Neutron), a Moog ladder filter, a big patch bay making it semi-modular, and a full-featured step sequencer / arpeggiator. Each of these has been seen in some form on other products, which demonstrates Behringer is ready to aggressively combine those bits into new products to suit the market.

And then there’s the price – Crave is US$199 (149 EUR).

Features:
3340 analog oscillator
Ladder filter (hi pass / low pass)
Step sequencer – also on the Odyssey and (SH-101) MS-101 (external MIDI transposition, 32 steps x 8 sequences)
Per-step glide time, gate length, accent, ratchet
Semi-modular patch bay
USB with MIDI
MIDI DIN I/O

Behringer has a product walkthrough, though their rep is strangely excited about MIDI transpose for some reason? (I mean, it’s definitely useful!)

Of course, you can compare this to the KORG volca modular offering at the same price – and maybe wish that KORG had finally abandoned their existing form factor, which would have allowed them (for instance) to use larger cables instead of tiny header pin-sized cables. KORG’s offering is definitely more left-field, with Buchla/West Coast-inspired synthesis. And it runs out battery power. But you have to want that more esoteric sound approach.

Or for a little more money, you can get the new Arturia MicroFreak, which also has semi-modular routings (delivered as a matrix instead of with cables), and a step sequencer, but a playable keyboard in addition – and some unique sound features. We’re hearing street price of US$299, so a hundred bucks more than the Behringer.

In other words, this year has already been really good for anyone wanting an advanced synth that costs under $300.

No product website or ship date yet.

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The Stylophone goes totally luxe with the GEN R-8

You’ve seen the Stylophone as the mass-produced, toy-like original. And you’ve seen it as a relaunched digital emulation and as an analog instrument. Now get ready for the Stylophone as premium boutique instrument.

The Stylophone began its story back in 1967, and became one of the iconic electronic musical inventions of the 20th century – its appeal being largely to do with its simplicity and directness. The son of the original inventor, Ben Jarvis, went on to revive instrument under the original manufacturer name, Dubreq.

Now, the GEN R-8 is here with some advanced features and flowery description about British circuitry you might expect from the ad copy for a high-end mixing desk. There’s something a bit funny about associating that with the instrument so long known as a (very musical) toy, but – think of the GEN R-8 as a new desktop synth, the full-featured, grown-up monster child of the original.

Oh, and — it sounds like it’s going to be a total bass beast.

So you know in campy horror movies where someone gets hit with a growth ray or radiation or whatever, and turns into a city-smashing giant? Hopefully this is like that, in a good way.

Sound specs:

Dual analog oscillators (VCOs) and full analog signal path.
Divide-down sub-oscillators (one octave lower) and subsub oscillators (two octaves lower) – switch them all on, and you get six oscillators at once.
12 dB state variable filter – low pass, high pass, band pass, wide notch – which they say is their own proprietary design.
ADSR envelope, now with a “punchy” shorter hold stage when you crank attack and decay peaks, they say.

There’s a delay, too – based on the Princeton pt2399 chip, and “grungy” in the creators’ description – which you can modulate via time CV input.

And some classic overdrive, plus an extra booster stage – this part does actually sound a bit like classic British console gear.

And there’s a step sequencer – 8 banks, 16 steps per sequence, both for the internal synth and external gear (CV/gate and MIDI output).

Plus the whole thing is patchable:
There’s an LFO with eight waveforms and dual outputs, which you can patch to all of the CV ins or to other gear.
The patch panel has 19 minijack CV/gate and audio patch points.

The keyboard is now touch-based – so you don’t need a stylus – and has a sort of absurd set of features (MIDI controller output with local on/off, glide and modulation keys, three octaves of keys).

And it’s made of steel.

Price: £299 / $349 / €329
Availability: Late February 2019 [limited edition]

So it’s really Stylophone on steroids – fully patchable, with delay and drive and filter, MIDI and CV, ready to use as a new synth or as a controller tool with other gear (other semi-modulars, Eurorack, MIDI instruments, whatever). It does appear one of the more interesting new instruments of the year – one to watch.

Demo:

https://dubreq.com/genr8/

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