Bandcamp is an ecosystem; this guide explains how that can help your music grow

Bandcamp can work best when you’re both an artist and a fan on the platform. And if you care about actually connected with people, that’s a big deal.

I’ve again teamed up with Riemann Kollektion to develop free tutorial material. It’s pretty fitting I think that this falls on Valentine’s Day. I remember a favorite grade school ritual was getting a shoebox and then spreading as many cute affectionate notecards to everyone in the class. (Definitely, you wanted some candy taped to it for bonus points.)

That’s totally the idea here – rather than being beholden to uncaring algorithms, corporate overlords, and banal charts, we can find some audience for our music by sharing the love.

Of course, to do that, you have to first navigate Bandcamp’s interface – both as a fan and as an artist. Here’s the guide to doing that:

Bandcamp can save us all over again [Guide] riemannkollektion.com

A complete set of power instructions for de-tangling its interface and finding love as a producer.

Riemann and Florian Meindl are really using Bandcamp effectively – even including a subscription to sounds.

https://riemannkollektion.bandcamp.com/

https://florianmeindl.bandcamp.com/

So there’s a business model here that is built around what artists and labels need – where you retain control, can offer flexible purchase options, and can make enough money and retain data to run as a business. But it’s not just that, I think, but the chance to participate in a larger community and ecosystem that is making Bandcamp so effective, even for weirder genres and artists that would otherwise get lost.

To sum up that larger ecosystem ethos, I see a few major points:

  • High-quality media files in an environment the artist/ label can actually control
  • An ownership-oriented (rather than rental-oriented) site and accompanying community (the people who like buying downloads and tapes and vinyl and merch)
  • Network-effect spread of music via a rich, supportive community, which in turn supports –
  • Music discovery via human editorial and individual users
Following, endorsements/reviews, email lists, the Feed, and even discovering music via individual users – the more you use Bandcamp, the more you start to appreciate what it can be. It feels good to feel good about online music again.

You know, other sites could learn from these things. But they’re built to maximize growth and revenue sharing at the top, not to best support human-to-human interactions around music. And that’s why the music landscape is so miserable right now for so many people, in a nutshell.

So all the little details of the Feed, “supported by” testimonials, mailing lists, and players that can be easily shared on other platforms — all of this adds up.

I talk about how to make the best use of that in this guide, and I hope we’ll dig deeper into getting a lot out of Bandcamp in the future.

You can find my music and – just as importantly, my beloved collection – on Bandcamp. (Artist page / fan page) I hope to follow some of you, too.

But do let me know what you think of the guide, as Florian and I hope to revise this and follow up with possibly more installments.

Bandcamp can save us all over again [Guide]

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Prototypes are free, open-source plug-ins – use them for sound, or to learn Csound

Get a free algorithmic bass drum generator, a lo-fi modulator, a massive granular workstation, for free – and that’s just the beginning.

Micah Frank is one of the most prolific sound designer-inventor-composer types around, via his Puremagnetik soundware label and personal projects. Lately, he’s been turning some of these larger, more experimental projects into free tools that you can both use in your own music – and learn from and expand.

Last summer, we saw an expansive, unparalleled granular tool take form as both album and free code:

But now, Micah has gone further – way further. The new series is a set of plug-ins called Prototypes. That granular instrument from last summer has become what is really a full-fledged tool like no other, and now is available in plug-in form. There are new tools in a slightly more pre-release state, true to the “prototype” name. But all are ready to use – and they offer a window into the power of Csound, the fully free and open-source omni-platform sound toolkit that is descended the very first digital audio tools ever created.

Available already:

Kickblast (an algorithmic bass drum generator)

Parallel (a lo-fi modulator)

And a much developed (not so prototype-ish) plugin version of my multitrack granular workstation Grainstation C

Pre-built plug-ins for VST and Audio Unit are available for macOS and 64-bit Windows. I think it’s trivial to build for some other platforms (I need to check that out), or you can also run in Csound directly. Find those in the Builds section of his GitHub:

https://github.com/micah-frank-studio/Prototypes/tree/master/Builds

It’s all open-source (GNU GPLv2 license), and while you can run it as a plug-in, the sound code is all in Csound. Full repository:

https://github.com/micah-frank-studio/Prototypes

Micah tells CDM he hopes that some of you will discover what Csound can do in your own work. ” Csound is my favorite,” Micah says. The “spectral, granular, convolution sound” is one of the best available, he raves. “I feel like it needs an awareness push, as the music-making community is much more ready to code than they were in the ’80s. And the learning curve from Max (or even a modular system) to Csound is not so bad.”

Noted.

Follow Micah on Instagram, so you get some pretty nature shots interspersed with your music nerd goodness. My kind of influencer.

https://www.instagram.com/micah.frank.studio/

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Someone made a Pomodoro timer for Ableton Live, so you can stay productive, take breaks

Productivity engineering has come to music production. A popular method for timeboxing is now available as a free Live add-on.

Have you ever sighed in relief to have a big, uninterrupted span of time – only to wind up wiling it all away with procrastination? And then have you found yourself with a particular deadline – like an hour left in your music studio before your partner arrives to kick you out – and suddenly find you’re focused?

The basic principle here is that, paradoxically, even as we hate schedules and deadlines, constraints can help us focus. By constraining our time, or timeboxing, we can concentrate more easily on a particular task.

The Pomodoro Technique is this boiled down to a really simple cycle. It’s named for a kitchen timer – you know, the thing often called an egg timer because it’s shaped like an egg, but in this case apparently with a model shaped like a tomato. It’s the late-80s invention of Francesco Cirillo, who I understand even liked the ticking sound. I hate ticking – uh, especially while making music – but sometimes setting a timer can make it easier to tackle a task you’re putting off.

While invented in the late 80s, Pomodoro Technique has spread more widely in the productivity craze of the Internet age. Of course, there’s a Lifehacker guide to getting started. (It was even updated as recently as last summer.) And yes, Francesco is around and will gladly take your money.

Now, it may seem a little strange to do this when you’re working on music, which most of us think of as a diversion. Isn’t music supposed to be endlessly fun and something we can concentrate on without any challenge? But apart from more rote work or making a Max for Live patch or carefully editing envelopes, anything that requires you to focus your brain benefits from breaks.

And that’s really what the Pomodoro Technique is about. It’s not actually the 25 minutes of focus that is the most important. It’s the break. (Perhaps part of why you’re so eager to procrastinate is a legitimate impulse by your brain that you’re overly and unnaturally focused on something.)

There’s plenty of science to back this up. Selecting just one useful overview:

Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find [ScienceDaily summary; original paper in Cognition, 2001]

There are lots and lots of Pomodoro-themed timers out there – or you can use any timer (as on your phone, wristwatch, a physical egg timer, whatever). (The Pomodoro timers sometimes have special features dedicated to the technique, and at least pictures of tomatoes, which as a fan of the veget— erm, fruit – I enjoy.)

pATCHES, a site and Patreon subscription creating resources for producers, has an experimental Max for Live plug-in. Apart from letting you run the thing inside your session, it even stops your transport when you’re due for a break – if you find that useful.

https://patches.zone/max-for-live/pomodoro

I’m curious to hear if people find this useful. It is easy to forget that, as much as we mystify music process, what we’re really taking care of is our brain.

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In quarantined China, concerts are going online as a safe place to meet

Even in the capital Beijing, once-crowded streets are now empty, as the 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak forces people at home. The solution for live musicians: turn to streaming.

Streaming was already a popular hangout for Chinese musicians and artists across the region, before the viral shutdown of public space. That already included experimental artists looking to reach one another in their niche. The difference is, now online interaction in China is essential because people are effectively all isolated at home.

I caught some small window into this via Edward Sanderson, based in Beijing, who has been sharing the streams of his friends. (To this I’m again indebted to C-drik and his Syrphe Facebook group on experimental music in Asia and Africa, as I wrote up recently.)

Edward writes, ” As group events in China have been curtailed because of the coronavirus threat, the online space has become more important for meeting up.” (Many of these events are also shared via Facebook even though that site is blocked by default in China; in experimental music circles, it seems VPNs are popular.)

So, for instance, via streaming, two experimental clarinetists can play together.

Zhu Wenbo played a concert from his home in Beijing:

In Dali, located in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, clarinet player Ding Chenchen could join in a day later, as a duet:

You won’t see anything until a stream is active, but there’s a streaming space on Shanghai-based Bilili, with a URL like this one:

https://space.bilibili.com/505035552/

That’s a Chinese-only service that now boasts tens of millions of users, largely focused around games, animation, and comics, but evidently branching out into clarinet noise music. These services are blocked outside China, though, so the only way to tune in would be to find some way to VPN into the country (in an unusual reversal of the normal order).

Artist Zhao Cong had announced a stream for today. I couldn’t locate it in time for this post, but here are some of her gorgeous textural compositions on Bandcamp – engrossingly fuzzy, lo-fi looped constructions:

Plus as part of the “Practice” series, new live-streamed performances were just announced with music by Zhu Wenbo, Zhou Yi, and Li Song (Chinese-language link, but you can get QR codes for concerts coming up in the next week):

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/opP6L9YTtevuRtwvjchpTg?fbclid=IwAR3qgeJNGXj0DmT6YLCeZtxqxXcJw8wJUjR1Fxubvfwo9gWvDCUtryXGH9I

Instead of links, event promos heavily feature images, and even QR codes. The number below Bilibili represents a “space” on the streaming site; head there at the appointed time, and you get live-streamed music. So think more underground – less Facebook notifications from the Boiler Room page everybody and their dog subscribes to.

Just as China has led the way in expanding the uses of mobile chat, mobile-based streaming has taken off in the country even as the West embraces the tech in fits and starts. (I’d say the reason is, markets like the USA still split usage between desktop and mobile, and are dominated by Facebook and Google and their business models – including for how music fees are structured.)

Anyway, our Chinese readers now far more about all of this than I do (from streaming to the current state of Chinese quarantine). So, since we do have a large readership that’s now trapped in your houses –

Open call to Chinese artists and other readers under quarantine! If you do have some ideas for streaming concerts, go for it! I’ll be happy to share that across the readership here. We can basically create, for now, not Boiler Room, but a sort of Coronavirus Room for bored and isolated quarantined musicians.

And to everyone dealing with life in the shadow of this virus, we wish you the best health. A big thanks to all the people working to contain its spread and doing research to help humans respond in ways that are well-informed and effective. I am not an immunologist and I don’t know that I would make a very good one, but what I imagine we can do as musicians is to help share accurate information across communities, bring people together, and to process emotions.

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The latest attempt to make digital music tangible: NFC-powered Muse Blocks

We are living in an immaterial world. Muse Blocks, tiles with embedded NFC chips, are one idea, and now team up with a popular electronic music label.

Berlin-based Senic, a hardware startup focused on smart home solutions, devised the tangible product Muse Blocks. And they’ve recruited underground tech house label Katermukke, Dirty Doering’s label, which has its own grungy Berlin afterhours vibes – fitting to its home base of the Kater Blau nightclub.

Launch video (German with English subtitles):

Basically, you can think of these tiles as connected art objects. Tap them to your phone (provided you have an NFC-capable smartphone), and up pops a streamed album or playlist. You can program the tiles yourself, meaning that you can have a physical object to go with your mixes – so it’s the 21st-century streaming equivalent of a mixtape, in theory.

https://www.senic.com/en/museblocks#faq

The pricing mirrors what we used to pay for CDs – 15EUR is the “special introductory price.” If you want them to look smart in your living room, you can buy a set that includes a bar to mount to a wall, and 7 Muse Blocks to put up on it, for a 69EUR bundle price. That of course makes them expensive for the promo use case.

Since the music is streamed, these are purely decorative, but then I suppose we buy all sorts of objects that are indeed purely decorative. It changes the streaming experience, at least, in that the ephemeral experience of streamed music gets its own object permanence and spatial location. By default, there’s support for Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, and Tidal, but they also suggest Netflix, YouTube, and more interesting stuff like Apple Homekit and IFTTT.

Uh, so then you can do this. Yes, I see that she’s also tapping her phone almost from the first interaction. Shhh. The design objects still look very cool.

I don’t know if this solves any problems here, but it does at least reframe the ongoing lack of tangibility in streamed music. And so that was obviously the appeal to Katermukke.

Now, if you’re wondering if you could DIY something like this – like maybe you want to release your next streamed album or mix inside a furry toy rabbit or a potted cactus – you can, of course. There are kits available from Identiv, tons of NFC and RFID stuff from Adafruit, and more. The mind boggles, actually, given the amount of stuff in our world constantly transmitting data.

Even on Senic’s devices, you can use a free app to write your own data. It’s certainly more fun, if a lot more expensive, than a cut up paper giveaway, so – yeah, you could absolutely use this for a Bandcamp code if you wanted.

Here’s an example of the write process:

The problem with all of this remains that there’s no actual data on the object, so it is effectively, well, useless. I still wonder what delivery medium makes sense for digital downloads. Most easily-bought USB keys and SD cards are pretty unattractive, and arguably they don’t offer anything that a download link can’t do. CDs are at this point about as dead as a format as cassette tapes and vinyl, but lack the collectability of either of those.

And so… oh, actually, I have nothing to say beyond that. If I come up with a conclusion, maybe I can embed it on an NFC object, and then… uh, never mind.

Let me just go dig up what NFC powers my Huawei phone has. See you.

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Watch Elsa Garmire’s pioneering laser show from 1972 – futuristic and expressive even now

Forget that cheesy Pink Floyd stuff from the planetarium. Scientist Elsa Garmire used optic chops to make lasers into a real instrument – and her work holds up today.

Sound and light artist and researcher Derek Holzer spotted this one; don’t miss his vector work and other synesthetic studies. It’s not a new article, but this story from Sloan Science & Film, Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York is worth visiting now.

Death of the Red Planet, 1973.

What’s telling is, it took an optical scientist and physicist to push the medium aesthetically. So even though Dr. Garmire was at a center that brought together engineers and artists – the legendary Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) – it was really her deep knowledge of how the technology worked that drove her to make something aesthetic, even when others were not.

As she told Science & Film:

There was a standard way of putting X-Y mirrors on the laser and getting what us scientist’s call Lissajous figures, which are sort of ovals. You can get lots of ovals of different sizes, moving in different directions, and you can run them with music and get a kind of wild pattern that to me has no aesthetic value at all,

That aesthetic virtuosity is just as impressive now – maybe more so, having seen what we’ve seen – as it must have been in the 70s. Working with filmmaker Ivan Dryer and Dale Pelton, her exquisite light performances were captured on film and presented in public, and as a result helped launch the whole laser industry. Going back to this early work is like watching Clara Rockmore on a Theremin, though – a deep level of virtuosity in a new medium that has been tough to match since. (Just, in this case, Dr. Garmire was essentially Clara and Lev Termen, all in one – player and engineer.)

Go to their article and scroll down to take in LASERIMAGE, and do check the whole article; it’s fascinating:

Creatures of Light: LASERIUM

Their gallery on science and cinema is worth a long, long look, especially for those of us who love that intersection – more like this, please:

https://vimeo.com/scienceandfilm

Here is Dr. Garmire at a lecture at the museum last year:

And she brought lasers, too:

On May 31, 2019, the Museum of the Moving Image’s Science on Screen series (movingimage.us/scienceonscreen), presented six short films by experimental film and light show pioneers. The screening was followed by a live laser demonstration by physicist Elsa Garmire, and a discussion between Garmire, Joshua White, and AJ Epstein moderated by Executive Editor and Associate Curator of Science and Film Sonia Epstein. More: movingimage.us/scienceonscreen

Let’s linkhole a little further, though, because the 1973 film she worked on Death of the Red Planet was also a major moment in immersive sound, featuring what composer Barry Schrader claims was the “first quadraphonic electronic music soundtrack composed for a motion picture.” (Given my forays into Soviet audiovisual experimentation, I’m not sure everyone is comparing their notes between east and west on the “first” business, but – it at least counts as pioneering, even if “first” is always a risky word to use. Ditto the “first” laser show referenced in the article above.)

That score was made on the Buchla 200 system, so have at this juicy link here:

https://barryschrader.com/death-of-the-red-planet

Best of all, there is a full scan of the write-up of this film from American Cinematographer at the time. Yeah, cinematographer this!

https://econtact.ca/11_4/pelton_red_planet.html

As artists like Robert Henke and emerging artists around the world rediscover lasers, it seems now is the perfect time to connect their modern computer-controlled experiments with the history of the field. Watch this space.

And I’ll be eagerly anticipating the upcoming documentary on the topic the Sloan folks promise in the article.

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Hear Jan Wagner’s intimate piano electronics, before they enter a planetarium dome

Maybe now is a perfect time for a moment of calm contemplation – premiering Jan Wagner’s “Kapitel 36” on the eve of a new album and a spatial planetarium premiere.

Kapitel, out on March 20 on the Quiet Love Label, is “autobiographical” ambient music. These are spontaneous, personal sketches that began as piano improvisations, but have sometimes had those piano imprints removed – a kind of lost wax approach to composition, piano molds for electronic textures.

“Kapitel 36” is an especially poignant, reflective moment in that series. Listen:

Berghain would be probably the last thing you’d expect to associate with this sound, but this sense of space and exploration also comes from an artist who has frequently mixed albums for the well respected Ostgut Ton label attached to that club. And maybe that’s an ideal Berlin connection – piano sentiment, engineering precision, and ambiguous spaces for personal reflection all come together here.

But we’ve had plenty of music in industrial nightclubs. Now, Jan is joining a new wave of artists realizing music for immersive contexts, with fully spatialized sound made for particular architectures. Jan was invited by Spatial Media Lab to collaborate – that’s a recently formed artist/tech collective founded by Andrew Rahman and Timo Bittner. With Jan’s music – and a full-sized acoustic grand piano hauled into the space – they’ll transform the environment of the Zeiss Grossplanetarium Berlin into a unique listening environment.

I got the chance to work with Spatial Media Lab on their first planetarium outing in November 2018. What makes their effort unique is that they’re working to de-mystify the delivery technology for spatializing sound, along artists to be more hands-on and collaborative. That frees them to spend the significant time to finely tune their music material to the space, and play creatively, rather than just wrestle with tech or turn over control to engineers. (You can read up on the collaboration I joined in 2018, Contentious Constant II – and we’re overdue for a check-up here.)

Jan has shared some thoughts with CDM on how this process worked:

What was the process for you, reworking material for a spatial context?

It was a totally new approach for me. The difference between stereo and immersive sound is enormous. I had to rethink the whole album and detach the production from the well-known stereo panorama cage. It wasn’t that simple, because everything was [originally] made in stereo. From the synth to the DAW, it’s all made for a stereo environment. So we had to [mix] the signals into mono, which we later scaled up to ambisonic sound.

After exporting all of the tracks, we imported them into the DAW Reaper … [which is able to] handle up to 64 outputs of each track, needed to play all the signals into the dome. We used the IEM Plugin Suite to build our scene and then mixed the tracks from scratch. [Ed.: SML used this combination before, and it’s great to work with artistically. IEM is free and open-source and easy to manage, and Reaper, of course, has some superb multichannel support and is fast, efficient, free to try, and inexpensive to own.]

Once I realized how far I could go when it comes to the production and writing process, my head almost exploded. There is no longer a stereo cage. You basically can do whatever you want. The signals can start right at the top of your head and fall down to your knees, surrounding you! This changes the whole process of how you create music.

Your musical process I know shifted for this record; can you describe what changed?

I started recording in the same way. The piano improvisation is still the root of it all, but it is no longer necessarily the main part of the production. I didn’t want to be constricted by the piano and often I just muted it after adding some synth layers. The piano is no longer the lead voice.

How did Tobias Preisig get involved in the project – and now on the same bill?

Last year I produced Tobias Preisig’s solo debut Diver. He wanted to concentrate on the essence of his music and dive deeper into his instrument and discover the real needs of his art. Tobias and I share the same approach to music, and while planning this event I wanted him to be part of it. His music is so immersive by default and it fits perfectly into the planetarium environment.

If you’re in Berlin, you can catch the “Spherea” program with both artists at the Zeiss-Grossplanetarium in Prenzlauer Berg.

Spherea präsentiert von Jan Wagner & Tobias Preisig

More on the Spatial Media Lab:

https://janwagner.bandcamp.com/

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Samplr, the genius sampling app for iPad, is also getting a long-awaited update

Samplr, one of the best music-making apps on iOS, is getting its first update since 2014.

And how about that timing. If you asked someone to say “what’s the best live sound manipulation tool” for iOS, the two answers you’d like get first would be Borderlands Granular (for granular sounds) and Samplr (for loop manipulation). They’re both deeply intuitive, immediate apps ideal for live performance. But there was a long, bleak period where neither got updates – before this week, Borderlands Granular hadn’t seen an update since March 2015, and Samplr since December 2014.

Apparently Chris and Marcos ate at the same Waffle House and talked about the iOS SDK or something, because now we get a new Samplr release, too.

Samplr is just wonderful – a one-screen interface that lets you capture sounds, then freely loop, slice, and navigate them. It’s not a hardware looper stuck on a touchscreen, either – it’s rather really freshly designed around the touch paradigm.

Here’s me playing live with it in 2017. A kalimba and the internal mic (and my voice) were enough to make a whole set. (I also used the WretchUp app I helped develop with Mouse on Mars.) And that’s really what you hope technology would do for you – give you a chance to just explore your ideas with some freedom, to really improvise.

New in this version:

Ableton Link support. This is probably the best and most awaited feature, because it means easily syncing and jamming with other apps, with other iPads and mobile devices, or with desktop software – not use Live, but tools like Reason or even Pure Data, too. (Oh yeah, wait, SuperCollider? Let’s check. Yes, of course.)

Higher resolution interface – ready for the latest iPads. The whole UI is now redrawn at higher res.

New MIDI sync. Marcos says he’s done a ground-up rewrite of the MIDI sync support, so it now works much more effectively.

Fixed audio recording under iOS 12.

File import improvements. Full updated support for Dropbox and Audioshare, so you can load your own samples from elsewhere.

New, updated, high-res UI.

Marcos says he’s already started work on the next update. No word yet on AUv3 – it’s support for this on both Samplr and Borderlands that will make them more future proof. Heck, both these developers should set up a tip jar; some of us are happy, loyal users.

For everyone else, if you haven’t spent the few bucks on Samplr yet and you own an iPad, go do it. Skip Disney+ or whatever. Samplr is all the entertainment you need.

Still relevant:

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One of the best granular apps just got a huge update – Borderlands 2.1 for iPad

Borderlands was already a breakthrough – an instrument that lets you explore all the timbral frontiers of granular synthesis. “2.1” sounds small, but it brings major improvements and feature requests.

First, if you’d missed granular synthesis, the idea is to create rich new evolving textures and timbres by piecing together sounds from smaller bits – the grains. It’s well suited to digital audio and even underlies a lot of the time- and pitch-manipulation software capabilities you know. But really adventuring into playing it as an instrument means managing more parameters at once. Using knobs, or worse, pointing at those knobs with a mouse, can feel limiting – like driving without a steering wheel.

Borderlands by developer Chris Carlson was one of the apps that changed all that, exploiting the multi-touch iOS paradigm to give you more freedom to push sounds to the edge. And Borderlands for many is even a reason to own an iPad. For all the apps on the App Store, it seems musicians often settle on a few beloved favorites like this one. “When is Borderlands getting an update?” has thus become a common refrain.

Great developers are often meek, so let’s just call this Borderlands 3, because that feels about right. You get a ton of tools for better controlling sound, new modes and sound design tools, new connection and synchronization, plus even contributions from some terrific artists.

New in this release:

● Tempo synced grains with Ableton Link
● Semitone pitch tuning option per cloud
● New waterfall-style streaming input mode
● Overdub level control for real time inputs
● ADSR mode with automatable trigger pad for each grain cloud
● Automate sound position, size, and rotation
● New ring modulation, vibrato amount, and probability controls per grain cloud
● Proper scaling on new, larger iPads and iPads with different aspect ratios
● Scene contributions from Cristian Vogel, Electric Indigo, King Britt, Mikronesia, and Tom Hall. Presets from Arovane coming soon.

And Chris has more planned, with ideas like AUv3, MIDI and OpenSoundControl (OSC), and the ability to run on iPhones, among others.

Yes, like many of you, Chris uses this live in performance. Here’s a recent set with three instances of the instrument:

https://cloudveins.bandcamp.com/album/flock-2-bg-1018

Follow mainly on Instagram:

instagram.com/borderlands_granular

http://www.borderlands-granular.com/app/

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The biggest music gear news and best videos to watch from NAMM

The US musical instrument show NAMM dropped the usual amount of gear news on us – now here’s the highlights reel.

The trend lines are pretty easy to spot. Component prices are coming down, and that’s shifting what’s on the market. Modular gear does more. Polysynths and wavetable synths are suddenly in. Audio interfaces with studio-grade specs are now weirdly cheap.

The historic remake trend is showing no signs of abating – not at the high end (KORG’s ARP 2600) nor the low end (Behringer).

If you wanted some big breakthrough in music-making, probably this isn’t your year. Yes, MIDI 2.0 is here, but it’s too young to see any compelling real-world use yet. Yes, Akai has another MPC that runs standalone as well as with a computer, but we’re still mostly dependent on Windows and macOS. These might be the areas to watch in the coming years, since there’s a limit to how much wavetable synthesis and polyphony you can cram into a keyboard and make a usable product.

That’s not to complain, though. Sure, music gear has a lot of 70s and 80s flashbacks, but we’re also spoiled for choice in a business that has loads of offerings that are accessible to a wide range of people.

So let’s have a look – since there’s way too much to watch, a selection of the best videos.

Software doesn’t really demo well and doesn’t need physical distribution, so it makes sense that software news generally spreads year round. But the big software news that did debut was Universal Audio’s Luna recording solution – free software, integrated of course with their hardware. I’ll explain this in a separate article, but here’s a demo:

Synths

This NAMM for electronic musicians was dominated by KORG – the first out of the gate with news, the most news, the most different kind of synth products … enough so that it would be easy to even forget their rich-sounding Wavestate synth, even though it was really the flagship new synth product from them. Here’s what it sounds like:

Here’s Cuckoo looking at sound design:

And yeah, of course there’s also Korg’s remake of the ARP 2600 (also labeled “FS” here, meaning maybe there really is a mini version coming):

Sequential’s Pro 3 oddly has some of the toughest competition from Sequential, but as I wrote previously, it is one of the more compelling new instruments out there. Cuckoo got an early look- and you can hear from none other than creator Dave Smith showing it off:

The MPC One is the hybrid computer/standalone MPC you might actually buy – more compact size, lower price, and some of the early kinks worked out from AKAI’s move into a new direction. I’m a little concerned about whether its horsepower will make it worth jumping from using a PC + controller, but someone will eventually nail this sort of hybrid. Synth Anatomy talked to Akai’s Andy Mac; see also how plug-ins work in an official video:

And audio tracks:

If it’s really a controller you want – or a standalone “hub” – Nektar have their new Aura.

The Udo Super 6 I missed in my underground synth round-up – and it’s definitely something new. FPGA-based, it’s an analog/digital hybrid, wrapped in a body that looks like it escaped from another decade, but in an alternative universe. Cuckoo gushes about the sound:

http://udo-audio.com/

How do you top the mechanical-optical Gamechanger Audio pedal, or their rack-mounted high voltage plasma coil? Why, you need an optical-sensing spring-based reverb pedal, the Light Pedal. I’m sorry, this maker is just damned cool – making stuff you’d expect out of 1960s pulp scifi.

The Moog Subsequent 25 has a lot of the sound powers of the 37, but in a Sub Phatty form factor. Here’s Perfect Circuit with a sound demo:

I didn’t get talk about the Modal Electronics Argon8, but amidst a flurry of new polysynths, this might be the one to beat. Hammering home that point, Modal are now offering three versions, so you can find one that fits your fancy and budget – the 8M and 8X rounding out the line. If comments on this site are to be believed, a lot of you wish synths came in variants with different keybeds and sizes or a keyless version, so here you go. Synthtopia has a nice demo:

Wavetable is everywhere, but Nord are ahead of the curve by moving on to what may be the next returning trend, FM. And the FM engine in their Nordwave 2 looks really powerful, welcome news to fans of their performance synths:

The ASM Hydrasynth is a stupidly powerful new instrument and features the designer/product manager behind some ground-breaking gear from Akai and Arturia (Glen Darcey). I talked about it in September, but this month’s NAMM was its big public showcase, so here are just some sounds:

Previously:

The Blad Kremier-created PULSAR-23 is also now on sale, which might just be the most interesting drum machine offering of 2020. There’s a big waiting list, and I think (?) it was at NAMM, so I’m counting it here. Honestly, fire your current booking, get some high paid techno gigs, use the cash to buy this. Wait, why am I telling you this? I should just go do that.

Doepfer are back with a joystick module – actually a pleasant surprise, as these sorts of components are not easy to come by these days:

I covered these instruments before, but here are deeper looks at the indie synths debuting this month.

The Liven 8bit Warps looks nicely mental:

Erica Synth’s own Girts debuts the DB-01 bassline in a jam.

Modular

Verbos have a full line of new modules:

4ms have a massive creation called the Ensemble Oscillators – 16 complex oscillators in a single unit:

Pittsburgh Modular, for their part, are doing loads of delays instead of loads of oscillators. Meet the Cascading Delay Network:

Audio interfaces

High-end audio interfaces are no longer an expensive proposition, it seems – but USB is here to stay.

Take the new SSL interfaces, which even include the companies’ 4000 series EQ and saturation. There’s something trippy about seeing a giant SSL knob, but then no one will mistake who these came from. Street price for this thing is just above a couple hundred bucks for the basic model, and comes with SSL software, too.

MOTU’s M Series are also out in the wild, and worth consideration:

There’s also a race to make audio interfaces that are less intimidating to new users. iZotope have tried that with their Spire interface; somewhere in between that kind of radical solution and a bread-and-butter box is the Audient Evo – a stylish box that still does mostly what the other boxes do, but with a “smart gain” feature and more modern looks. Now whether that’s really the biggest problem everyone faces or not, I don’t know. (Not to dismiss this, but I think the issues with desktop OSes and reliability are more daunting than how to set gain properly. Still, this could be a part of a larger puzzle.)

It’s not all USB interfaces, though. Presonus also have a full range of new gear, which SonicState details – including Thunderbolt and lots more IO. But prices of thesefeatures are also coming down.

And from left field…

The dream of alternative keyboard layouts never dies. Now there’s the Lumatone CORTEX, with a whopping 275 keys and RGB. So if you think it’s outrageous to spend four grand on a remake of the ARP 2600 and want something more forward-looking – well, clearly you have to spend your four grand on a microtonal keyboard instead, or you’re a damned hypocrite!

And yes, by far the weirdest new invention: a MIDI harmonica, from Sweden’s Father and Son.

If you dream of playing music on a hockey puck rather than a hamonica, then I suggest instead the Ariphon Orba. (Okay, they say “half an orange” and a gaming controller.) There is actual onboard sound capability, but it’s also a wireless MIDI controller. Like I said, some ideas just don’t go away.

https://artiphon.com/pages/orba

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