Open up a browser tab, use code sketch musical loops and grooves (using trigonometry, even), and play / export – all in this free tool.
So — why?
Developer Jack Schaedler is quick to caution that this is neither intended for teaching code nor teaching music, that better tools exist for each. (Sonic Pi is a particularly accessible entry for learning how to express musical ideas as code, used even by kids!)
Then again, you don’t have to believe him. That same spirit that made him decide to do this for fun seems to be infectious. And this might be an entry into making this stuff.
For coders, it’s yet another chance to discover some code and libraries and perhaps bits and pieces and inspiration for your own next project. For everyone else, well, it’s a terrific distraction.
And you can export MIDI, so this could start a new musical project.
By the way, someone want to join me in building this actual inspiration for Jazzari? It could be killer by next summer, at least.
The name is a riff on the 12th century scholar and inventor Ismail al-Jazari. al-Jazari is thought to have invented one of the first programmable musical machines, a “musical automaton, which was a boat with four automatic musicians that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties.”
Bonus, for my Arabic, Kurdish, and Persian friends in electronic music – no one knows which of those accurately can claim this guy. We clearly need to get something going.
Koma today revealed a sequel to their crowd-funded smash hit Field Kit. And it’s a whole bunch of patchable effects, for €249 (€219 for funders).
Inside that box, there’s a load of different effects to play with:
Sample Rate Reducer / Bitcrusher
Analog Spring Reverb
Yeah, you read that last one right – there’s actually a physical spring in there for reverb. Behold:
Looping of course means that you could make the FX a hub of performance. And in addition to the other digital effects, that frequency shifter opens up some really interesting possibilities.
So, whereas the first Field Kit depended on you attaching contact mics and working with the mixing functions, the Field Kit FX actually has a lot more sonic possibilities included right out of the box. There’s still a companion book to go with it, and of course this is already intended as a clever
But, for a kind of “weirdo modular effects toolkit” in a case, you also get a bunch of tools for applying these effects, by mixing and sequencing them:
4 Channel VCA Mixer
4 Step Mini Sequencer
All over the place, you’ve got various patch points. That’s a chance to connect to other analog I/O – which certainly includes Eurorack modulars, but these days a lot of other gear, as well, even desktop units from Novation, Roland, Arturia, KORG, and the like.
And there’s a new 4-Channel CV Interface for bringing it all together, meaning you can come up with pretty elaborate modular connections.
4-channel CV interface for communications with other gear – now not just modular, but a lot of new desktop stuff, too.
In fact, for under three hundred bucks, the whole thing looks a bit like either a shrunken Eurorack modular or a tabletop of analog and digital effects merged together for patching.
Now, this is still definitely geared for advanced users. There’s no MIDI. And the CV routing, while powerful, might be overwhelming to newcomers – for instance, there’s not a single, simple trigger in to clock that sequencer. (That’s not necessarily a criticism – the various CV options mean loads of creative flexibility. But it does probably mean this box is more for people who want to get deep into patching.)
Dreadbox, purveyors of gnarly electronic synths and effects, have come back with a modular-friendly analog synth, which you can assemble – if you dare.
The core synth itself is simple – just a single-oscillator synthesizer, to which you can add two suboctaves for lots of low end bass punch, and three waves (pulse with width, double saw with width, saw). In the tradition of Dreadbox and their love for edgy distortion, you can add some angry sounds with the drive circuit and 3-pole resonating filter.
And, mostly, you’re likely to appreciate this thing for its modulation and patchability. There are some 13 patch points, which you can use with Eurorack or other analog circuits, external audio input, a triangle and square wave LFO, and two separate envelope generators.
You can stick this on your desk and patch into stuff. Or you can bolt it into a Eurorack.
Now, here’s the somewhat bonkers bit. If you’re sensible, I think you’ll just buy this thing pre-assembled, and think hard about finding space in a Eurorack. It’s a nice 250€ buy.
Or, if you’re a bit bored, you’ll DIY the kit version. It’s all through-hole parts, so it’s not a difficult build. It’s just a lot of them. Expect to … free up some time to put this together.
Also cute but not totally practical, they’ve decided that the box is a case. And it is kind of a nice cardboard box. I mean, sure, why not, but … it’s not so much a selling point as it is a cute way around the fact that it doesn’t have a case. It doesn’t have a power supply, either, so figure that into the purchase price.
Don’t get me wrong, though – I think this thing is terribly clever as a synth. And Dreadbox are making some utterly genius distortion, based on the couple I’ve played with.
If you’re looking for a cheap buy that’s fun to patch into other stuff – really desktop or Euro – this isn’t a bad buy at all. And maybe save yourself the time on the busywork of assembling the kit version, and put that time into making a nice wooden case for the assembled version.
Though, while we’re at it, technically every product I’ve ever owned has come with a free enclosure / kid’s playhouse / pencil case / advanced part storage / tiny spaceship for paper people … uh, you know, box.
Also, you can turn a lot of the manuals into really ace paper airplanes.
Remember trackballs? Logitech does, and that means if you’ve missed this input device, you can bring it back to your creative projects and studios.
The appeal of the trackball is simple: take up less space, avoid all that business with surfaces and mouse mats and the like, keep your hand in a comfortable position, and get more precision when performing precise mousing.
Now, of course, some people just hate the feeling of the trackball, but the above reasons have made some people swear by them in studios, in particular. When you’ve got other gear, mixing desks and so on, trackballs are appealing for their fixed position. And that precision comes in handy when you’re using Adobe CS (visual folks) or making detailed edits on a timeline (sound, video).
Logitech were the kings of this device category, much as they remain a leader in mice today. So, it’s notable that Logitech are bringing back this creation by popular demand.
And this being 2017, the MX Ergo gets wireless support, modern hardware internals, and modern connectivity. It also addresses the one thing that kept me away from a lot of trackballs in the 90s, particularly the horizontally oriented ones. There’s now adjustable tilt, which means you can fit this to your hand.
I’m intrigued; I might go back to this, especially for studio work. If we get one, of course we’ll do a review. Brings back fond forgotten memories of my Kensington Orbit. Behold:
By way of comparison, Kenginston make trackballs, too – with the key difference being putting the ball on the top instead of on the side. That includes very affordable and portable Orbits for about $30-40. I suspect your choice depends on what you find most comfortable for your hand.
Later this year, Ableton Live will only be available in a 64-bit version. But what does that mean for you?
This is a development that has some implications for Ableton Live’s compatibility, stability, the pace of features and improvements, and that question of “wait, which version am I supposed to choose on the Ableton download page?” Ableton invited CDM to their offices to discuss the change and give us a chance to understand the thinking behind the decision and to help figure out what users might want to know.
But first, it’s actually worth understanding what 64-bit music software actually does.
What are 64-bit and 32-bit, anyway?
First, you know, 64-bit is twice as much as 32-bit, which means it’s twice as … well, 32 more … double the …
Okay, let’s be honest, even lots of fairly tech-savvy don’t really know what these terms mean, let alone what impact they have in real-world use.
Software runs on numbers. So when we refer to “64-bit” or “32-bit” software, we’re talking about the word length, or precision, of the numbers the software uses to reference memory. If you have a higher word length, you have more precision, and the software can address more memory.
Think of phone numbers for comparison. Leave out the area code and country code, and you eventually run out of available phone numbers. But add some additional digits, and you have more available numbers – and you can call a greater number of individual people.
With 32-bit software, Ableton Live and all of its plug-ins can use only up to 4 GB of available RAM (or even less on some versions of Windows). But 64-bit software can address all of your RAM, on any computer sold today. (The theoretical limit is so high, you can’t even buy a computer that comes close to hitting the ceiling, at least for the foreseeable future.)
What does more memory mean when you’re making music?
If you have a computer with 8GB or 16GB or more of RAM, there’s some reason to want to use all of that memory. As you load big sample libraries, and add plug-ins or ReWire clients, and as your Live set grows, all of that uses up memory.
Oh, yeah, and one other thing – running out of RAM can cause a DAW to crash. You might not even know that was the cause of a crash: Live crashes, you curse, and you might not realize that the choice you made on that dropdown when you downloaded could be a factor.
32-bit and backwards compatibility
Live added 64-bit support way back at Live 8.4 – that’s the summer of 2012. So if 64-bit is better than 32-bit, why did Ableton keep making new 32-bit versions of its software for over five years?
Running a 64-bit DAW requires a 64-bit operating system – for Live, that’s a 64-bit version of Windows Vista or later, or Mac OS X 10.5 or later. (Microsoft has their own FAQ to help you figure out if you’ve got the right OS for 64-bit.)
64-bit DAWs also need 64-bit versions of plug-ins. Most plug-in developers have already updated their plug-ins for 64-bit, but some haven’t. (There are wrappers you can use, and these were more popular when DAWs first started to go 64-bit, but let’s not go there – especially since part of the idea here is to improve stability!)
Okay, so you need a 64-bit OS, you need to update your plug-ins, and you need to have more than 4GB of RAM for this to be useful. Back in 2012, a non-trivial population of Live users fit that description.
Years later, the picture looks different. Nearly everyone has more than 4GB of RAM, meaning they’re going to benefit from the 64-bit version of the software. And not everyone seems to be aware of that. Ableton tells us that 85% of current Live users who are running the 32-bit version of the software have more than 4GB of RAM. That means 85% of those 32-bit users are actually unable to take advantage of hardware they already own.
That tips the scales. Now Ableton Live’s user base may be better off without new 32-bit versions coming out than with them.
Why are these developers smiling? Going 64-bit only will make the development process faster – and the Live experience more crash-free. Also, Club Mate.
Why go 64-bit only?
First off, nothing is changing for versions of Live up through and including Live 9.7.4. You can still download and run those older versions in their 32-bit versions. And remember that you can install more than one version of Live on the same computer, side by side. So if you’ve got a Live set that uses some old 32-bit plug-in, you can keep a 32-bit version of Live on your machine to open it.
What’s changing is, that dropdown on the download page is going away for every version starting later this year. Ableton will only develop a 64-bit version of Live and Max for Live going forward.
The downside of this is pretty simple: you won’t be able to use some old 32-bit plug-in and the latest version of Live at the same time. (Though you can still use the older Live with the older plug-in.) You’ll also need a 64-bit operating system (though on the Mac side, Apple tends to drag you along to new OSes and new hardware, anyway).
But the upsides to forcing Live users to go 64-bit when they update may be bigger than you’d expect.
Fewer crashes. The 32-bit version of Live crashes more than the 64-bit version – a lot more. Ableton collect the number of crashes. The 32-bit version of Live crashes 44% more often than the 64-bit version.
Most of these crashes are as simple as Live running out of memory – not a bug, not a misbehaved plug-in, but just hitting that 3.5-4GB memory ceiling imposed by running a 32-bit version of the software. (Some may be the result of dubious old 32-bit plug-ins, too, but that’s also a reason to dump plug-ins that haven’t been updated to 64-bit.)
Fewer Live crashes overall means fewer people having to talk to support about these crashes, which is better for everybody.
Faster updates. I also spoke with Ableton’s engineering side about why they’d want to drop 32-bit development.
Supporting both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Live adds overhead to the entire development process. More overhead can translate to us getting fewer new features, or getting them less quickly.
That overhead impacts the time spent coding and debugging Ableton Live, not only for the humans, but also for the machines those humans rely on to do their work. When engineers make a change in Live’s code, they have to wait while servers build, test, and output the results. Even with a room full of racks of pricey, powerful computer hardware making that happen, the process takes hours, especially at peak times.
Take away the 32-bit side of things, and developers get their results faster. In practical terms, that could mean they get their change back today, instead of having to wait until coming into the office tomorrow morning. Since engineers typically like to stay focused and in the zone, that’s important.
Add everything together – supporting more use cases, more old plug-ins, dealing with more crashes, added development time to support two versions, added time to test and build two versions of the software – and you get a lot of added drag to Live’s development.
This isn’t just about making Ableton happy. Removing that drag from the process means those engineers can work on Live more efficiently. The upshot for us is, we get more the stuff we want – fixes and new features.
What you need to do
It may actually have taken more time to read this article than it will to make the leap to 64-bit Ableton Live use. But hopefully it gives you some notion of what’s going on in the world of the people making the software we use.
For your part, assuming you aren’t already running the 64-bit Ableton Live, here’s what to consider:
On Windows, you might want to double-check you have the 64-bit version of the OS installed. (Click your Start button, right-click Computer, click Properties. Under System, you’ll see which version of Windows you’re running.)
As far as checking your plug-ins, Ableton have some resources on the topic:
Since 32-bit plug-ins don’t show up in the 64-bit version, the easiest way to check compatibility is to launch the 64-bit version and see if the plug-in disappears. (Don’t laugh – this really is the easiest method.) If it’s invisible, odds are you need to go to the developer and download a 64-bit version, if available. And as mentioned earlier, you can still keep the 32-bit Live on your hard drive if you find a plug-in that requires it.
Relevant to versions from 8.4 [64-bit introduction] through now [prior to going 64-bit only], here’s Ableton’s existing FAQ:
Got an original Octatrack? That MKII envy is about to get a cure, with updated firmware that brings feature parity to the MKI.
The original Octatrack is still a classic in the studio and ubiquitous in live sets. So while you might have complained that Elektron’s MKII didn’t actually introduce enough new features, owners of the original model now get some very good news. Elektron today says that an update is imminent that will bring MKII features to the MKI.
And that’s a big deal – think instant stereo sampling with real-time pitch shift and time stretch, and more effects and LFO slots.
And yes, I wrote earlier that I hoped this is what would happen. (That was a easy call given Elektron said the two units were already project-compatible.)
Wait, so does that mean the MKII is now the same as the original except in color? Not quite.
Unique to the MKII hardware are some minor but significant physical improvements. The display is nicer (OLED). You get back-lit buttons and high-res encoders, as on the Digitakt. There’s a new contactless crossfader and higher-endurance buttons. And you get more dedicated controls.
But other than that, I’d say the firmware update probably means you’ll hang onto your MKI rather than upgrade – maybe spending the money you saved on a fresh, new Digitakt, for example. Elektron and users win, regardless.
Even as rave culture faces new hurdles in Russia, nerd culture thrives. That was the feeling at August’s Synthposium in Moscow; here’s another look.
For an impressionistic feeling of the space station adoration of electronic sound production, here’s a montage shot inside the Expo, which somehow captures the milieu of the event and passion of its attendees.
Apart from space exploration, Russia has its roots in rigor both engineering and compositional, as nicely embodied by Synthposium artist Alex Pleninger. An interview (English subtitled) takes you inside his world, and an adeptness for machines then led him to the classic Buchla modular from … a Nintendo Game Boy. (Love that lofi camera.)
Lest you think Russia is all synth noodling, freestyling (seriously) was a lot of what I heard. Hip hop seems to be resurgent in the Russian capital. (Fight the powers that be?)
We also get fresh views of the gear.
Builder Vyacheslav Grigoriev was there representing VG-Line; here’s a look inside his workshop:
Vyacheslav Grigoriev, the founder of the VG-Line workshop and production, is Moscow’s chief man when it comes to repairing and modifying synthesizers. An expert in Soviet electronics, Vyacheslav is known for his modified and upgraded version of the cult RITM-2 synthesizer, as well as the TR-909-inspired desktop bass drum module, that goes far beyond the original. His workshop is a unique enterprise with a DIY attitude, that denies any corporate classification, where he repairs and manufactures synthesizers of different designs and basically lives. Grigoriev will join the Expo section and present his newly-engineered products at the Vintage Hall on August 26 and 27.
As we were wandering the expo floor, manufacturers were queued up to demo their gear in a convenient light box a series called Things had set up. Here’s a look at the (mostly) Russian entries – starting with VG-Line:
35 years after the release of the first model, the creator of Polivoks, Vladimir Kuzmin, decided to release an updated version, which already fell into the hands of many lucky people and, judging by the existing reviews, the legend has already returned. In the work on a modern embodiment, engineers Alex Pleninger and Alexey Taber took part. At the moment there are only 100 copies of the new Polivox and each of them is collected manually.
You’ve seen Roland’s kit a lot lately, but for one international input, let’s add a Czech input – especially as Bastl’s Thyme just became available for preoder:
The Thyme is an effects processor that is best described as a sequenceable robot operated digital tape machine. With a lot of parameters at hand it enables the exploration of all the time based effects and the vast space in between their classical multi-effects categories (delay, phaser, reverb, chorus, pitch shifter, multi-tap delay, tape delay, tremolo, vibrato, compressor) and in stereo! Each of the 9 different parameters (Tape Speed, Delay Coarse & Fine, Feedback, Filter, extra heads Spacing and Levels, Dry Wet Mix and Volume) has a dedicated, very flexible modulation source – called the Robot – which can be phased out differently for left and right channel to create psychedelic new sound effects.
SoftPop is a playfully organic, semi-modular light and sound synthesizer with wide variety of sounds: from random dripping water pops to heavy subtractive basslines. Its fully analog core consisting of a heavily feedbacked system of dual triangle-core oscillators, state variable filter and sample and hold is played through an intuitive interface of 6 faders that provide countless combinations which can be explored by anyone.
The Pribore MDP101 Baby connects to a computer or a phone via bluetooth, defined as a MIDI device. It has 2 assignable control knobs (Rotary Knob CC), 2 assignable keys (Button CC), 5 transport keys (Rewind, Stop, Play, Record, Loop), 1 angular acceleration sensor (accelerometer), for capturing emotions and expression (Motion Sensor), 1 battery for stand-alone operation, and a USB port for charging and connecting as a usb-midi device.
Touch Me is a HCI device that turns human touch into music.
When the surface area or intensity of skin contact between two or more people changes Touch Me modifies sound output according to selected scale and tone parameters.
The world now: a bunch of mismatched cables, and then complicated setup. The world of the future: wireless, easy to configure. Or so we hope.
Akai has managed to deliver MPCs that function both as standalone production boxes, untethered from your computer, and computer accessories (they’re a controller/software combo when you plug them in).
But they’re also making these things work wirelessly with some new technologies.
Via Bluetooth, you can connect keyboards (making this a kind of weird computer, or letting you touch-type your musical sets), or wireless MIDI devices (so you can use a piano-style interface instead of just pads, among other solutions).
Via Ableton’s Link technology, you get the ability to jam with other software, hardware, and mobile apps over a wifi network. In fact, that makes this about the only standalone hardware to do so – though of course it’s really just a PC beneath that skin (and that’s kind of a good thing).
I suspect the stumbling block to this happening more is simply having more of a hardware ecosystem of stuff that does this.
It makes the MPC Live and MPC X still more appealing right now, as well as being a glimpse of things to come.
Now, you still have to decide whether Akai’s workflow is what you want, or whether you want to buy another piece of gear, with competitors from the likes of Elektron and Native Instruments eager to keep you on their side. But if you do, here’s what you get to enjoy, explained in video:
100 cars, 100 sound systems, 100 different versions of the pitch A: Ryoji Ikeda has one heck of a polyphonic automobile synthesizer coming.
The project is also the first new hardware from Tatsuya Takahashi after the engineer/designer stepped down from his role heading up the analog gear division at KORG. And so from the man who saw the release of products like the KORG volca series and Minilogue during his tenure, we get something really rather different: a bunch of oscillators connected to cars to produce sound art.
Tats teams up for this project with Maximilian Rest, the man behind boutique maker E-RM, who has proven his obsessive-compulsive engineering chops on their Multiclock.
And wow, that industrial design. From big factories to small run (100 units), Tats has come a long way – and this is the most beautiful design I’ve seen yet from Max and E-RM. It’s a drool-worthy design fetish object recalling Dieter Rams and Braun.
I spoke briefly to Tatsuya to get some background on the project, though the details will be revealed in the performance in Los Angeles and by Red Bull Music Academy.
The original hardware is simple. In almost a throwback to the earliest days of electronic music, the boxes themselves are just tone generators. Those controls you see on the panel determine octave and volume. Before the performance, details on the execution are a bit guarded, but this sounds like just the sort of simple box that would perfectly match Max’s insanely perfectionist approach.
What makes this tone generator special is, there are a hundred of them, each hooked up to one of one hundred cars.
Yeah, you heard right: we’re talking massively polyphonic, art-y ghetto blasting. The organizers say the cars were selected for their unique audio systems. (Now, that’s my way of being a car fan.) Car owners even contributed special cars to the symphony, making this an auto show cum sound happening, evidently both in an installation and performance.
One hundred cars tuned to the same frequency would sound like … well, phase cancellation. So each oscillator is tuned to a different frequency, in a kind of museum of what the note “A” has been over the years. The reality is, we’re probably hearing a whole lot of classical music in the “wrong” key, because the tuning of A was only in standardized in the past century. (Even today, A=440Hz and A=442Hz compete in symphonies, with A=440Hz is the most common in general use, and near-universal in electronic music.)
That huge range is part of why any discussions of the “mathematically pure” or “healing” 432 Hz is, well, nonsense. (I can deal with that some time if you really want, but let’s for now file it under “weird things you can read on the Internet,” alongside the flat Earth.)
Once you get away from the modern blandness of everything being 440 Hz, or the pseudo-science weirdness of the 432 Hz cult, you can discover all sorts of interesting variety. For instance, one of the oscillators in the performance is tuned to this:
A = 376.3Hz
*1700 : Pitch taken by Delezenne from an old dilapidated organ of l’Hospice Comtesse, Lille, France
Hey, who’s to say that particular organ isn’t the one “tuned to the natural frequency of the universe”?
You’ll get all those frequencies in some huge, wondrous cacophony if you’re lucky enough to be in LA for the performance.
It’s presented as part of the Red Bull Music Academy Music Festival, October 15. (I have no idea how you’d evaluate the claim that this is the largest-ever symphony orchestra, though with one hundred cars, it’s probably the heaviest! If anyone has historical ideas on that, I’m all ears.)
And of course, it’s in the perfect place for a piece about cars: Los Angeles. Wish I were there; let us know how it is!
Remember when the main draw of Reason was adding a whole bunch of toys to your computer and playing until you couldn’t play any more? Those days are back.
The last few years have seen lots of workflow refinements and maturity in music production software. And that’s all fine and well. We’ve even seen new DAWs entirely, new combinations of hardware controllers and software (Maschine, Push), standalone production tools that work without a computer (the new MPC). And we’ve seen a whole lot of music production software evolution, gradually working through the elaborate wish lists we foist on the developers – and with good reason. Heck, maybe you begin to think that adding new sounds is about buying fancy modular rigs, and the computer will quietly disappear into the background.
But since the beginning, Reason was always about something different. Reason users didn’t just get a whole bunch of effects and synths as a bonus, icing to sweeten the deal. Reason was those effects and synths. And you’d be forgiven if you assumed that era had come to a close. After all, most Reason upgrades focused on adding in the openness and multifunctional capabilities of rivals – audio recording, Rack Extensions and a store to buy add-ons, even VST plug-in compatibility. Once you have VST support in Reason, maybe Reason isn’t really about the stuff Propellerheads put in the box.
Think again, because – Reason 10.
Now, there’s some chatter at Propellerhead about this being the “biggest content upgrade” ever, but let’s talk specifically about which instruments are getting added. And it’s a big ‘ol Swedish smörgåsbord of the kind of synths that made us notice Reason in the first place.
So, to answer Thor, there’s Europa – a wavetable synth.
To those granular goodies in Reaktor and Max for Live, there’s The Grain.
And in the tradition of Reason, they look, well, Reason-y. Functions are encapsulated, simplified, hardware-like, but without sacrificing deep modulation. The Grain, for its part, looks like the native granular synth Ableton never quite got (outside Max add-ons). Europa has its own biggie-sized instrumental quality.
For more acoustic timbres, you get new sampled instruments: Klang for tuned percussion, Pangea for a potpourri of “world” instruments, Humana for choir and vocal sounds. (Even if Humana makes those of us in Germany think of retro DDR fashion…)
Happily, these aren’t just ROMplers or sets of presets – you still get the control panels that mimic vintage hardware, and CV routing for patching monster hybrids and strange sound designs.
Propellerhead took a similar approach with their aptly-named Radical Piano, which allows the construction of hybrid, physically-modeled piano instruments, and it’s nice to see that instrument now included in the box.
And there’s one really killer effect, too: Synchronous, which brings modulated signal processing, with sidechaining and LFOs, even with the ability to draw your own curves to route into filter, delay, reverb, distortion. That alone could fill albums of material, and with a lot of different takes recently on how to do this, the Props’ take looks genuinely unique.
There are a lot of samples, too – Drum Supply and Loop Supply get a refresh. Now, that would normally bore me, except — oh yeah, that granular thing. Interested again.
In beta now, out 25 October.
I think it’s going to be a good winter.
They’ve worked hard; let’s embed their video. They earned it.