deton8 is a little drum machine with loads of soul

Twisted Electrons move on from acid and chip synths to drum machines. And the deton8, for around three hundred bucks, packs a ton of personality and sound possibility in a cute, playable package.

Twisted Electrons made a name for themselves in fun little boxes and boards packed with 8-bit, chip music, and acid sounds. Those instruments all stand out for lots of sequencing features and hands-on playable options. So a drum machine is of course a natural next step.

But what a next step the deton8 is. Mixing samples and synthesis, 8-bit sounds and wavetable synth, custom kits, and a ton of control and performance, it promises to be one of the more fun packages we may see this year. There’s even a simple NES-style synth in there, so even though a compact bassline synth would be an obvious combination with this, you could even do a lot with just the voices in this hardware.

I’m terrifically eager to get my hands on this one. It’s now much clearer what deton8 is about thanks to a new video – and some tantalizing new details:

For live performance, what’s especially appealing is the sound knob, which has different characteristics for different sounds. That’s a lot more fun than menu diving to change sounds, or being limited to tweaking pitch and duration alone.

Oh yeah, even that decay knob is more fun than usual, since decay doubles as glitchy repeat “delay.”

And in keeping with Twisted’s legacy, this thing is packed with downsampling and bit reduction, which is a perfect match for drums. (Again, that’s especially live – there’s a reason those Game Boy parties got so wild. There’s something about squashing dynamic range and making things screaming and digital that can make people go nuts. I guess partying is about reducing bit depth, anyway, right?)

Stutter, reverse, retriggering, granular algorithms – there’s a bunch there to play and record. I imagine you might make this a primary instrument, or some icing on your existing drum machine … that you could use it for relatively subtle stuff, or go totally nuts.

And it’s eminently affordable. The deton8 is 255 EUR (that’s under US$300), or around 300EUR with VAT.

Here’s the full list of features. The big development was, at the last minute, Alex at Electron responded to overwhelming user requests to load your own samples. So that means in addition to multiple kits included in the box, you’ll be able to use a software editor to slice up and upload your own samples, as both loops and 1-shots – see screenshot.

(Dear Roland, please, please add this to the TR-8S, too! And … yeah, I can imagine the TR and Twisted Electrons would make a wonderfully psycho combo.)

Features:

USB-MIDI
Hardware MIDI
SYNC IN
SYNC OUT
16 patterns of 1-16 steps each
Chain up to 16 patterns in a row to make a song
8 Voices (Kick, Snare, Metal (hats), Clap, Can (tinny sounds), Tom, Nut (woody sounds), SYNTH (NES inspired triangle wavetable synthesizer, with arp that can be shaped to a square).
Two modes: Loop Mode (for breaks and melodic content, decay and tune is global) & Kit mode (individual tuning and decay per part)
Pitch and decay modulation per step on every voice
8 hands on Stutter modes: Beat repeat (with variable rate), Forward granular, Reverse granular, Pendulum granular (scratch), buzz/texture , random granular (noise generation), spin up, spin down
Forward & Reverse sample playback per track
Delay with variable delay time and pitch decay (upwards and downwards)
Ring mod effect with variable frequency
Global pitch shift
Copy/Paste patterns
Real time pattern recording with optional metronome
Tap tempo
Swing
Mute/Solo a track
Drive any voice into distortion
Sound variation knob for Kick (add sub), Snare (add noise/snappy), Hats (change texture) and Synth (arpeggiate)
Pump aka sidechain compression emulation (any track can “duck” the others for the pumping/breathing effect)
Pattern clean and randomize for accidental magical beats

It sounds like we should see a review unit in April. See you then.

Promo video for some more sounds:

https://twisted-electrons.com/product/deton8/

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Novation Circuit crams still more features: 1.8 update

There’s yet another firmware update for Novation’s Circuit, the inexpensive synth/drum groovebox. 1.8 adds new internal expression features like non-quantized recording, plus custom MIDI channels for use with external gear.

Firmware updates are not normally worth making front-page news, but there’s something unique about the unstoppable force of the Circuit.

It’s small. It’s cheap – still around US$350 new, and used for a lot less. It’s simple – the big surprise has been that what first appeared as a basic entry-level instrument has become a sleeper hit packing unexpected powers. And it just keeps adding firmware updates, at this point seeming more like the sort of thing we’d get from hacker users than from the manufacturer.

New in this build:

Record without quantizing. This one’s long overdue – sure, it’s nice that Circuit automatically quantizes for anyone who’s finger drumming skills suck, but it also takes the soul out of the music. Now you can choose.

Per-note velocity. This was another sort of oversight – because Circuit can have more than one note on the same step, but didn’t track the velocity for each note, you had multiple notes that were all stuck with the same velocity. Now each note has its own velocity.

Synth microsteps. Each step has up to six microsteps for still more rhythmic division.

Assignable MIDI channels. Synth 1, Synth 2, and Drums let you choose MIDI channel 1 to 15, useful if your outboard gear doesn’t let you select.

Also a new 1.8 feature (not sure when it was introduced) – CALC has grown a mustache. Erm, 1.8 video:

I think we’re now probably really mostly at the end of the life of Circuit in terms of what the hardware will even run, but it’s still worth noting this longer journey. And actually, just having these additional features might be reason to bring a unit out again, especially with outboard MIDI sequencing.

And there’s a lesson for more long-ter life for gear. MPC die-hards will likely have fond memories of JJ OS, an unofficial alternative firmware for the Akai MPC1000 and MPC2500. Now it’s time for that sort of mindset to apply to official releases.

And why not? Musicians love buying gear. If they got the sense that their hardware would get long-term support rather than being abandoned, they might actually buy more gear. And it’s clear the attention Novation lavished on Circuit has had a halo effect on the whole brand. So manufacturers, take note: musicians invest more in long-term love than they do in planned obsolescence.

So you do hope more manufacturers devote this kind of effort into updates. Novation have been a model for browser-based updates and editing, one you’d hope others follow. And it’d be great where manufacturers don’t devote resources themselves, that they find ways of leaving architectures open for users to modify and extend their gear – whether large manufacturers or small shops.

If it sounds like I may be leading up to discussions of that elsewhere, you bet I am. So other manufacturers working on updates and extensibility, or who would like to talk about those ideas generally, we’d love to hear from you.

More on Circuit:

https://novationmusic.com/circuit/circuit

Grab the update:

https://novationmusic.com/circuit-components

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Novation’s latest videos “hack” advanced features out of their synths

I know a lot of the folks at Novation on a personal level well enough to say – they’re synth lovers, day job and after hours. What’s great about their latest video series is, some of that comes out.

Of course, yesterday we saw at least one user really hacking a Novation product, the Launchpad Pro, by modding the hardware using a firmware release from the company. And as one frustrated developer shouted at us in comments, that requires a bit of effort. (Not so much for you – you can download a file and use this easily – but modifying real-time firmware of hardware takes some practice!)

Hack a Launchpad Pro into a 16-channel step sequencer, free

This isn’t quite that. These “hacks” have more to do with creatively abusing some features to push the hardware synths to the limit – Circuit, Circuit Mono Station, and Peak. The Circuit in particular has a user community that proved surprisingly advanced, squeezing everything they can out of this budget-priced hardware. But lately the more recent Mono Station and Peak are finding an equally devoted following.

Here’s the whole playlist, which covers sound design techniques (like oscillator sync – okay, that’s more a conventional technique than a ‘hack’), approaches to performance (patch change), working with clock and CV, and other features.

This raises a question, though – these are recent Novation products, so it’s pretty easy to get the manufacturer to do some hot tips.

But which instruments would you like to see covered – new or old – and in what way? What’s missing in tutorials? Let us know in comments. (I realize I just self-selected the answers to that with people who own these Novation synths, so I’ll keep asking this … but also curious what other stuff you Novation lovers own, too!)

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Hands-on: Roland’s #808day upgrade for the TR-8S is a blast to play

It’s a little thing, but it adds a lot when you’re playing live: STEP LOOP lets you repeat steps in a sequence as they play, without losing time. Here’s how it works, along with other updates to Roland’s TR-8S drum machine.

Roland’s version 1.10 firmware is out today, and the big new feature is called STEP LOOP. The basic idea:

Hold down a step to make it repeat.

Hold down multiple steps, and they repeat in order.

Release that step or steps, and the sequence continues in time. (LED feedback shows you that the sequence position advances even as you have steps triggered.)

STEP LOOP impacts the whole sequence, not just one part. To activate it, hold down SHIFT and INST PLAY. To exit the mode, just trigger any other sequence mode. Here is in action. Notice the visual feedback as I enter the mode, and what happens when I trigger one or more steps.

It’s hugely useful, because it lets you make fills and variations out of the existing material of a sequence – and you don’t ever drop out of time. It’s not the first drum machine to do this (the ElecTribe ES2 from KORG springs to mind, among others), but it’s hugely useful in this context. The TR-8S is already a great live performance feature, thanks to its flexible routing and I/O, ample controls, faders for volume, and the ability to load custom samples. STEP LOOP is then a perfect addition for live jamming, because it’s intuitive and rhythmic.

The TR-8S has been getting a steady stream of updates – the other huge one in 1.10 is the ability to preview samples. Here’s a reverse-chronological timeline of some of the highlights.

1.10, August 2018
STEP LOOP
Preview sound samples when you import

1.03 April 2018
Improved performance

1.02 March 2018
Batch import kits
Import and export patterns and kits
Write direct to an SD card from the computer (“Storage Mode”)

All of this fits nicely together. It’s now really quick to chop up some samples and load them onto an SD card, then import them into custom kits. That makes the TR-8S’ own onboard hardware a useful way to build your own custom kits – even preferable in some way to working with software. And the combination of STEP LOOP with other features for making custom rhythms adds tons of variety. (Use LAST to make different length parts, add sub-step rhythms for more complex patterns, and use “auto fill” to mix things up even if your hands aren’t free.)

Oh, and you can sidechain external inputs. So I’ve used the TR-8S with my laptop and Native Instruments Maschine. I use MIDI out from Maschine to keep things in sync, and route audio from the computer into the TR-8S so I can sidechain that audio with the drum machine. I’ve also played with Roland’s own AIRA VT-3 vocal transformer, which also lends itself to sidechaining. But it’s an ideal live performance box.

For more resources on the TR-8S, check out Francis Preve’s blog – he’s done a great Master Class on the instrument for Electronic Musician, plus a custom kit for you to download:

Master Class: Roland TR-8S

Previously:

Roland TR-8S hands-on: a more playable, powerful drum machine

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AutoTrig and TATAT generate rhythms for Ableton, modular gear

Composer Alessio Santini is back with more tools for Ableton Live, both intended to help you get off the grid and generate elaborate, insane rhythms.

Developer K-Devices, Santini’s music software house, literally calls this series “Out Of Grid,” or OOG for short. They’re a set of Max for Live devices with interfaces that look like the flowcharts inside a nuclear power plant, but the idea is all about making patterns.

AutoTrig: multiple tracks of shifting structures and grooves, based on transformation and probability, primarily for beat makers. Includes Push 2, outboard modular/analog support.

TATAT: input time, note, and parameter structures, output melodic (or other) patterns. Control via MIDI keyboard, and export to clips (so you can dial up settings until you find some clips you like, then populate your session with those).

AutoTrig spits out multiple tracks of rhythms for beat mangling.

And for anyone who complains that rhythms are repetitive, dull, and dumb on computers, these tools do none of that. This is about climbing into the cockpit of an advanced alien spacecraft, mashing some buttons, and then getting warped all over hyperspace, your face melting into another dimension.

Here’s the difference: those patterns are generated by an audio engine, not a note or event engine per se. So the things you’d do to shape an audio signal – sync, phase distortion – then spit out complex and (if you like) unpredictable streams of notes or percussion, translating that fuzzy audio world into the MIDI events you use elsewhere.

TATAT is built more for melodic purposes, but the main thing here is, you can spawn patterns using time and note structures. And you can even save the results as clips.

And that’s only if you stay in the box. If you have some analog or modular gear, you can route audio to those directly, making Ableton Live a brain for spawning musical events outside via control voltage connection. (Their free MiMu6 Max for Live device handles this, making use of the new multichannel support in Max for Live added to Live 10).

Making sense of this madness are a set of features to produce some order, like snapshots and probability switches on AutoTrig, and sliders that adjust timing and probability on TATAT. TATAT also lets you use a keyboard to set pitch, so you can use this more easily live.

If you were just sent into the wilderness with these crazy machines, you might get a bit lost. But they’ve built a pack for each so you can try out sounds. AutoTrig works with a custom Push 2 template, and TATAT works well with any MIDI controller.

Pricing:
AutoTrig 29€ ($34 US)
TATAT 29€ ($34 US)
Bundle AutoTrig + TATAT 39€ ($45 US)

Bundle MOOR + Twistor + AutoTrig + TATAT 69€ ($81)

They’ve presumably already worked out that this sort of thing will appeal mainly to the sorts of folks who read CDM, as they’ve made a little discount coupon for us.

The code is “koog18”

Enter that at checkout, and your pricing is reduced to 29€ ($34 US) for both AutoTrig and TATAT.

Check out their stuff on the K-Devices site:

OOG part 2: AutoTrig and TATAT, lunatic Max For Live devices

https://k-devices.com/

See, the problem with this job is, I find a bunch of stuff that would require me to quit this job to use but … I will find a way to play with Monday’s sequencing haul! I know we all feel the same pain there.

Here we go in videos:

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This free tool could change how you think about sequencers

Context, built in Pure Data, is a free and open source modular sequencer that opens up new ways of thinking about melody, rhythm, and pattern.

Sequencers: we’ve seen, well, a lot of them. There are easy-to-use step sequencers, but they tend to be limited to pretty simple patterns. More sophisticated options go to the other extreme, making you build up patterns from scratch or program your own tools.

The challenge is, how do you employ the simplicity of a step sequencer, but make a wider range of patterns just as accessible?

Context is one clever way of doing that. Building on modular patching of patterns – the very essence of what made Max and Pd useful in the first place – Context lets you combine bits and pieces together to create sequencers around your own ideas. And a whole lot of ideas are possible here, from making very powerful sequencers quick to build, LEGO-style, to allowing open-ended variations to satisfy the whims of more advanced musicians and patchers.

Where this gets interesting in Pd specifically is, you can built little feedback networks, creating simple loopers up to fancy generative or interactive music machines.

It’s all just about sequencing, so if you’re a Pd nut, you can combine this with existing patches, and if not, you can use it to sequence other hardware or software instruments.

At first I thought this would be a simple set of Pd patches or something like that, but it’s really deep. There’s a copious manual, which even holds new users by the hand (including with some first-time issues like the Pd font being the wrong size).

You combine patches graphically, working with structures for timing and pattern. But you can control them not only via the GUI, but also via a text-based command language, or – in the latest release – using hardware. (They’ve got an example set up that works directly with the Novation Launchpad.)

So live coder, live musician, finger drummer, whatever – you’re covered.

There are tons of examples and tutorials, plus videos in addition to the PDF manual. (Even though I personally like reading, that gives you some extra performance examples to check out for musical inspiration!)

Once you build up a structure – as a network of modules with feedback – you can adapt Context to a lot of different work. It could drive the timing of a sample player. It could be a generative music tool. You could use it in live performance, shaping sound as you play. You might even take its timing database and timeline and apply it to something altogether different, like visuals.

But impressively, while you can get to the core of that power if you know Pd, all of this functionality is encapsulated in menus, modules, and commands that mean you can get going right away as a novice.

In fact… I really don’t want to write any more, because I want to go play with this.

Here’s an example of a performance all built up:

And you can go grab this software now, free (GPL v3) — ready to run on your Mac, Windows PC, Linux machine, or Raspberry Pi, etc.:

https://contextsequencer.wordpress.com/documentation/

https://contextsequencer.wordpress.com/

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Crazy8Beats puts MIDI, analog sequencing, and insanity in one unit

This boutique hardware melds live performance and programming, MIDI and analog triggers, into one desktop pattern maker. And it’s now shipping.

One of the nice things about Roland’s TR-8S this week is that it doesn’t try too hard to be a sequencer. That is, it’s a drum machine with the ability to do some triggering, but it doesn’t get wrapped up in so much functionality that it starts to get complicated.

All of this leaves room for desktop boxes that really focus on creating patterns. And ideally, they’d be suited not just to people who want to do a lot of involved programming, but might limber up their fingers and play live, too.

That’s essentially what the Crazy8Beats from Twisted Electrons is. True to their roots in making weird boxes for acid and chip music, they’ve packed it with features for lots of pattern permutations. But unlike some past attempts by other boutique makers, they’ve kept those features handy with one-touch buttons. (You know, I’m beginning to think that one easy test is – look for sequencers with either simplified screens or no screen at all, if you crave hands-on tactile control.)

The price is at EUR303, but integrates both MIDI I/O and plenty of dedicated trigger outs. So it’ll talk to your MIDI gear. It’ll talk to your analog gear. And if you must, you can even bolt it in a Eurorack case (though it seems way easier to access if it’s flat on a surface).

What I suspect may make this one tantalizing to people, though – in addition to that clever MIDI and analog integration, and a big punch-board style display showing off the different tracks – you get per-track swing and a “crazy” feature with live remixing and randomization.

Plus, you can modulate CC as well as patterns

So… it’s crazy. Oh, yeah, it’s crazy.

Check this nice walkthrough:

Or trip along as Liquid Sky Berlin puts this in action on some acid-flavored madness with other gear:

Via gearporn.berlin

Specs:

8 Hybrid Analog/MIDI Tracks

8 MIDI tracks, 3 MIDI ports (1 In & 2 Out)
8 Analog Trigger outputs

Variable Accent/CV output per step

MIDI velocity amount, CC modulation, or both per step.
8BIT 0-5V Analog CV output per step

Trigger input/output to sync Crazy8Beats to other devices
MIDI input to receive MIDI clock and set up parameters
MIDI Clock sent on both ports
16 patterns per track
Up to 16 steps per pattern
Individual patterns change per voice (or all at once)
Up to 16 patterns can be chained to create a song
4 play modes per track (forward, reverse,ping pong, random)
Copy, Paste, Clearing of patterns
8 Levels of Swing per track
Crazy feature enables probability and live remixing of patterns
Rhythmic Drill effect with variable rate

16 Pads can be used to punch record patterns live or program visually.

The pads are backlit to provide visual feedback of the pattern you are programming and the tracks that are active.

64 Step LEDs enable you to see 4 tracks advance at any time.

Shipping now.

EUR303 including VAT.

https://twisted-electrons.com/product/crazy8beats/

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Quick tip: how the Roland SH-01A and TR-08 trigger work

A defining feature of the original SH-101 was its ability to take trigger ins as clock. Here’s what that means and how to use it on the new Roland SH-01A.

We often hear that cliché about how useful restrictions can be in music. But the key is to make those limitations interesting. So, here, instead of having an endlessly repeating step sequence that loops on every bar, we can quickly produce syncopations and polyrhythms. That’s a whole lot of fun when you’re jamming live onstage or in the studio, because it lets you quickly create something asymmetrical and add variety.

Normally how a step sequencer advances is from one step to the next. You can sync that to external clock, but each step advances at the same rate. The clever thing about the SH-101 and now the SH-01A is that you can trigger the move from one step to the next externally.

Any trigger signal will work, but here let’s use the trigger output on the TR-08. The TR-08 has a dedicated trigger part, so you can sequence any pattern you want. (Those of you with Eurorack setups and the like can get fancier from here, if you so choose.)

Let’s watch this in action:

Some tips:

  • Any monophonic minijack cable will work to connect the two pieces of gear.
  • Now that the SH-01A adds polyphony, you can also use this trick to create sequences of chords, not just monophonic melodies as here.
  • Remember that even with a signal routed to the external clock in jack on the SH-01A, you still have to press the play button on the 01A sequencer.

Roland SH-01A

Roland TR-08

Previously:
Video hands-on: jamming with the TR-08 and SH-01A is lots of fun

What you need to know about the Roland Boutique 101, 808 reboots

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