Ableton Live 10.1: more sound shaping, work faster, free update

There’s something about point releases – not the ones with any radical changes, but just the ones that give you a bunch of little stuff you want. That’s Live 10.1; here’s a tour.

Live 10.1 was announced today, but I sat down with the team at Ableton last month and have been working with pre-release software to try some stuff out. Words like “workflow” are always a bit funny to me. We’re talking, of course, mostly music making. The deal with Live 10.1 is, it gives you some new toys on the sound side, and makes mangling sounds more fun on the arrangement side.

Oh, and VST3 plug-ins work now, too. (MOTU’s DP10 also has that in an upcoming build, among others, so look forward to the Spring of VST3 Support.)

Let’s look at those two groups.

Sound tools and toys

User wavetables. Wavetable just got more fun – you can drag and drop samples onto Wavetable’s oscillator now, via the new User bank. You can get some very edgy, glitchy results this way, or if you’re careful with sample selection and sound design, more organic sounds.

This looks compelling.

Here’s how it works: Live splits up your audio snippet into 1024 sample chunks. It then smooths out the results – fading the edges of each table to avoid zero-crossing clicks and pops, and normalizing and minimizing phase differences. You can also tick a box called “Raw” that just slices up the wavetable, for samples that are exactly 1024 samples or a regular periodic multiple of that.

Give me some time and we can whip up some examples of this, but basically you can glitch out, mangle sounds you’ve recorded, carefully construct sounds, or just grab ready-to-use wavetables from other sources.

But it is a whole lot of fun and it suggests Wavetable is an instrument that will grow over time.

Here’s that feature in action:

Delay. Simple Delay and Ping Pong Delay have merged into a single lifeform called … Delay. That finally updates an effect that hasn’t seen love since the last decade. (The original ones will still work for backwards project compatibility, though you won’t see them in a device list when you create a new project – don’t panic.)

At first glance, you might think that’s all that’s here, but in typical Ableton fashion, there are some major updates hidden behind those vanilla, minimalist controls. So now you have Repitch, Fade, and Jump modes. And there’s a Modulation section with rate, filter, and time controls (as found on Echo). Oh, and look at that little infinity sign next to the Feedback control.

Yeah, all of those things are actually huge from a sound design perspective. So since Echo has turned out to be a bit too much for some tasks, I expect we’ll be using Delay a lot. (It’s a bit like that moment when you figure out you really want Simpler and Drum Racks way more than you do Sampler.)

The old delays. Ah, memories…

And the new Delay. Look closely – there are some major new additions in there.

Channel EQ. This is a new EQ with visual feedback and filter curves that adapt across the frequency range – that is, “Low,” “Mid,” and “High” each adjust their curves as you change their controls. Since it has just three controls, that means Channel EQ sits somewhere between the dumbed down EQ Three and the complexity of EQ Eight. But it also means this could be useful as a live performance EQ when you don’t necessarily want a big DJ-style sweep / cut.

Here it is in action:

Arranging

The stuff above is fun, but you obviously don’t need it. Where Live 10.1 might help you actually finish music is in a slew of new arrangement features.

Live 10 felt like a work in progress as far as the Arrange view. I think it immediately made sense to some of us that Ableton were adjusting arrangement tools, and ironing out the difference between, say, moving chunks of audio around and editing automation (drawing all those lovely lines to fade things in and out, for instance).

But it felt like the story there wasn’t totally complete. In fact, the change may have been too subtle – different enough to disturb some existing users, but without a big enough payoff.

So here’s the payoff: Ableton have refined all those subtle Arrange tweaks with user feedback, and added some very cool shape drawing features that let you get creative in this view in a way that isn’t possible with other users.

Fixing “$#(*& augh undo I didn’t want to do that!” Okay, this problem isn’t unique to Live. In every traditional DAW, your mouse cursor does conflicting things in a small amount of space. Maybe you’re trying to move a chunk of audio. Maybe you want to resize it. Maybe you want to fade in and out the edges of the clip. Maybe it’s not the clip you’re trying to edit, but the automation curves around it.

In studio terms, this sounds like one of the following:

[silent, happy clicking, music production getting … erm … produced]

OR ….
$#(*&*%#*% …. Noo errrrrrrrgggggg … GAACK! SDKJJufffff ahhh….

Live 10 added a toggle between automation editing and audio editing modes. For me, I was already doing less of the latter. But 10.1 is dramatically better, thanks to some nearly imperceptible adjustments to the way those clip handles work, because you can more quickly change modes, and because you can zoom more easily. (The zoom part may not immediately seem connected to this, but it’s actually the most important part – because navigating from your larger project length to the bit you’re actually trying to edit is usually where things break down.)

In technical terms, that means the following:

Quick zoom shortcuts. I’ll do a separate story on these, because they’re so vital, but you can now jump to the whole song, details, zoom various heights, and toggle between zoom states via keyboard shortcuts. There are even a couple of MIDI-mappable ones.

Clips in Arrangement have been adjusted. From the release notes: “The visualisation of Arrangement clips has been improved with adjusted clip borders and refinements to the way items are colored.” Honestly, you won’t notice, but ask the person next to you how much you’re grunting / swearing like someone is sticking something pointy into your ribs.

Pitch gestures! You can pitch-zoom Arrangement and MIDI editor with Option or Alt keys – that works well on Apple trackpads and newer PC trackpads. And yeah, this means you don’t have to use Apple Logic Pro just to pinch zoom. Ahem.

The Clip Detail View is clearer, too, with a toggle between automation and modulation clearly visible, and color-coded modulation for everything.

The Arrangement Overview was also adjusted with better color coding and new resizing.

In addition, Ableton have worked a lot with how automation editing functions. New in 10.1:

Enter numerical values. Finally.

Free-hand curves more easily. With grid off, your free-hand, wonky mouse curves now get smoothed into something more logical and with fewer breakpoints – as if you can draw better with the mouse/trackpad than you actually can.

Simplify automation. There’s also a command that simplifies existing recorded automation. Again – finally.

So that fixes a bunch of stuff, and while this is pretty close to what other DAWs do, I actually find Ableton’s implementation to be (at last) quicker and friendlier than most other DAWs. But Ableton kept going and added some more creative ideas.

Insert shapes. Now you have some predefined shapes that you can draw over automation lanes. It’s a bit like having an LFO / modulation, but you can work with it visually – so it’s nice for those who prefer that editing phase as a way do to their composition. Sadly, you can only access these via the mouse menu – I’d love some keyboard shortcuts, please – but it’s still reasonably quick to work with.

Modify curves. Hold down Option/Ctrl and you can change the shape of curves.

Stretch and skew. Reshape envelopes to stretch, skew, stretch time / ripple edit.

Insert Shapes promises loads of fun in the Arrangement – words that have never been uttered before.

Check out those curve drawing and skewing/scaling features in action:

Freeze/Export

You can freeze tracks with sidechains, instead of a stupid dialog box popping up to tell you you can’t, because it would break the space-time continuum or crash the warp core injectors or … no, there’s no earthly reason why you shouldn’t be able to freeze sidechains on a computer.

You can export return and master effects on the actual tracks. I know, I know. You really loved bouncing out stems from Ableton or getting stems to remix and having little bits of effects from all the tracks on separate stems that were just echos, like some weird ghost of whatever it was you were trying to do. And I’m a lazy kid, who for some reason thinks that’s completely illogical since, again, this is a computer and all this material is digital. But yes, for people are soft like me, this will be a welcome feature.

So there you have it. Plus you now get VST3s, which is great, because VST3 … is so much … actually, you know, even I don’t care all that much about that, so let’s just say now you don’t have to check if all your plug-ins will run or not.

Go get it

One final note – Max for Live. 10.0.6 synchronized with Max 8.0.2. See those release notes from Cycling ’74:

https://cycling74.com/forums/max-8-0-2-released

Live 10.1 is keeping pace, with the beta you download now including Max 8.0.3.

Ableton haven’t really “integrated” Max for Live; they’re still separate products. And so that means you probably don’t want perfect lockstep between Max and Live, because that could mean instability on the Live side. It’d be more accurate to say that what Ableton have done is to improve the relationship between Max and Live, so that you don’t have to wait as long for Max improvements to appear in Max for Live.

Live 10.1 is in beta now with a final release coming soon.

Ableton Live 10.1 release notes

And if you own a Live 10.1 license, you can join the beta group:

Beta signup

Live 10.1: User wavetables, new devices and workflow upgrades

Thanks to Ableton for those short videos. More on these features soon.

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DP10 adds clip launching, improved audio editing to MOTU’s DAW

DP10 might just grant two big wishes to DAW power users. One: pull off Ableton Live-style clip launching. Two: give us serious, integrated waveform editing. Here’s why DP10 might get your attention.

A handful of music tools has stood the test of time because the developers have built relationships with users over years and decades. DP is definitely in that category, established in fields like TV and film scoring.

This also means, however, it’s rare for an update to seem like news. DP10 is a potential exception. I haven’t had hands-on time with it yet, but this makes me interested in investing that time.

Bride of Ableton Live?

The big surprise is, MOTU are tackling nonlinear loop triggering, with what they call the Clips window.

The connection to Ableton Live here is obvious; MOTU even drives home the point with a similar gray color scheme, round indicators showing play status, clips grouped into Scenes (as a separate column) horizontally, and into tracks vertically.

And hey, this works for users – all of those decisions are really intuitive.

Here’s where MOTU has an edge on Ableton, though. DP10 adds the obvious – but new – idea of queuing clips in advance. These drop like Tetris pieces into your tracks so you can chain together clips and let them play automatically. The queue is dynamic, meaning you can add and remove those bits at will.

That sounds like a potential revelation. It’s way easier to grok – and more visible – than Live’s Follow Actions. And it frees users from taking their focus of their instruments and other work just to manually trigger clips.

Also, as with Bitwig Studio, MOTU lets you trigger multiple clips both as scenes and as clip groups. (Live is more rigid; the only way to trigger multiple clips in one step is as a complete row.)

I have a lot of questions here that require some real test time. Could MOTU’s non-linear features here pair with their sophisticated marker tools, the functionality that have earned them loyalty with people doing scoring? How do these mesh with the existing DP editing tools, generally – does this feel like a tacked-on new mode, or does it integrate well with DP? And just how good is DP as a live performance tool, if you want to use this for that use case? (Live performance is a demanding thing.)

But MOTU do appear to have a shot to succeed where others haven’t. Cakewalk added clip triggering years ago to SONAR (and a long-defunct tool called Project 5), but it made barely a dent on Live’s meteoric rise and my experience of trying to use it was that it was relatively clunky. That is, I’d normally rather use Live for its workflow and bounce stems to another DAW if I want that. And I suspect that’s not just me – that’s really now the competition.

More audio manipulation

Every major DAW seems locked now in a sort of arms race in detecting beats and stretching audio, as the various developers gradually add new audio mangling algorithms and refine usability features.

So here we go with DP10 – detect beats, stetch audio, adjust tempo, yadda yadda.

Under the hood, most developers are now licensing the algorithms that manipulate audio – MOTU now works with ZTX Pro from zynaptic. But how you then integrate that mathemagical stuff with user interface design is really important, so this is down to implementation.

It’s certainly doubly relevant that MOTU are adding new beat detection and pitch-independent audio stretching in DP10, because of course this is a natural combination for the new Clips View.

More research needed.

Maybe just as welcome, though, is that MOTU have updated the integrated waveform editor in DP. And let’s be honest – even after decades of development, most DAWs have really terrible editors when it comes down to precise work on individual bits of audio. (I cringe every time I open the one in Logic, for instance. Ableton doesn’t really even have waveform editing apart from the limited tools in the main Arrangement view. And even users of something like Pro Tools or Cubase will often jump out to use a dedicated program.)

MOTU say they’ve streamlined and improved their Waveform Editor. And there’s reason to stay in the DAW – in DP10, they’ve integrated all those beat editing and time stretching and pitch correction tools. They’re also promising dynamic editing tools and menus and shortcuts and … yeah, just have to try this one. But those integrated tools and views look great, and – spectral view!

Other improvements

There’s some other cool stuff in DP10:

A new integrated Browser (this will also be familiar to users of Ableton Live and other tools, but it seems nicely implemented)

“VCA Faders” – which let you control multiple tracks with relative volumes, grouping however you like and with full automation support. This looks ilke a really intuitive way to mix.

VST3 support – yep, the new format is slowly gaining adoption across the industry.

Shift-spacebar to run commands. This is terrific to me – skip the manual, skip memorizing shortcuts for everything, but quickly access commands. (I think a lot of us use Spotlight and other launchers in a similar way, so this is totally logical.)

Transport bar skips by bars and beats. (Wait… why doesn’t every program out there do this, actually?)

Streamlined tools for grid snapping, Region menu, tool swapping, zooming, and more.

Quantize now applies to controllers (CC data), not just notes. (Yes. Good.)

Scalable resolution.

Okay, actually, that last one – I was all set to try the previous version of DP, but discovered it was impossible for my weak eyes to see the UI on my PC. So now I’m in. If you hadn’t given DP a second look because you actually couldn’t see it – it seems that problem is finally solved.

And by the way, you also really see DP’s heritage as a MIDI editor, with event list editing, clear displays of MIDI notes, and more MIDI-specific improvements.

All in all, it looks great. DP has to compete now with a lot of younger DAWs, the popularity of software like Ableton Live, and then the recent development on Windows of Cakewalk (aka SONAR) being available for free. But this looks like a pretty solid argument against all of that – and worth a test.

And I’ll be totally honest here – while I’ve been cursing some of DP’s competition for being awkward to set up and navigate for these same tasks, I’m personally interested.

It means a lot to have one DAW with everything from a mature notation view editor to video scoring to MIDI editing and audio and mixing. It means something you don’t outgrow. But that makes it even more important to have it grow and evolve with you. We’ll see how DP10 is maturing.

64-bit macOS, and 32-bit/64-bit Windows 7/8/10, shipping this quarter.

Pricing:
Full version: $499USD (street price)
Competitive upgrade: $395USD
AudioDesk upgrade: $395USD
Upgrade from previous version: $195USD

http://motu.com/products/software/dp/

I have just one piece of constructive criticism, MOTU. You should change your name back to Mark of the Unicorn and win over millennials. And me, too; I like unicorns.

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Roland just made syncing Serato and TR drum machines automatic

The hybrid DJ set keeps getting fresh nudges. Now, Roland and Serato have added easy, automatic sync over USB for the TR-8, TR-8S, and the Boutique Series TR-08 and TR-09 drum machines.

And… oh, actually, this is such a no-brainer, I could almost just finish the story with that. (And that’s actually kind of cool.) But let’s offer a little more detail.

How does it work? Plus in a compatible drum machine via USB, and your drum machine follows Serato’s BPM.

How is that different from existing solutions? Well, it saves you the added step of configuring MIDI clock, at the very least. We’ll be able to test this shortly to check it in action, but it also presumably irons out other performance issues that can crop up with MIDI.

Oh, plus, if you didn’t understand any word I just said – this update is totally for you. You plug it in and it works. And rankly, that’s how it ought to be.

How do you get the update? Looks like all Serato DJ Pro owners with Roland hardware will be squared away. This is officially called the “Serato x Roland TR-SYNC update” but it appears you basically get plug and play support in the latest version of Serato DJ Pro.

Why would you want to do this? Well, even short of doing a full-on hybrid set, it can be fun to layer sum drum parts or (on the TR-8S) samples and so on. You could also then go on to sync still more gear from the TR. Oh, and the Boutique TR-08 and TR-09 are advantageously tiny. Even the most cramped DJ booth could easily fit one.

Bottom line – it’s nice to see some challenge to Pioneer’s own link protocol with their CDJ. Why shouldn’t you plug in drum machines and have them groove along? That’s why they’re drum machines.

I think it’ll make perfect sense, but for some reason, Roland marketing have gone a little crazy and decided to explain this not to non-technical DJs, but to actual space aliens. And for some reason all the sync in the product photography is 120 bpm, which bothers me. So here we go:

https://www.roland.com/global/promos/tr-serato-sync/

I’ll translate back to human:

What is a drum machine? It is … a machine … with drums in it.

What’s so special about Roland drum machines? No idea. I swear I can stop using them any time I want. I don’t really even like music. Watch, I’m about to do something more productive with my life right this second. The official Roland explanation, though:

The legendary TR-808 and 909 are the most influential drum machines of all time and have become part of the DNA of everything. They’ve literally just reprogrammed our genetic code and destroyed our minds and now all music genres and all carbon-based life on Earth have been assimilated, leading up presumably to some kind of invasion – once everyone has become a DJ.

Isn’t making your own beats complicated? No, it’s not, but that won’t stop you from becoming newly obsessed with how the beat is never right and the longer you listen to it, the more your grasp of all reality will melt away leaving you only with this loop. See DNA issue, above.

How do I include my own beats in my DJ set? This is a question that has truly no accurate answer, but if you call yourself a DJ, you’re already part of a global phenomenon started by a surprisingly small handful of people of color (very poorly attributed, as per usual) who just decided to show off and also not to have gaps between tracks and then got really deep into using phonographs incorrectly, so… uh, experiment, if you like, until you find something you like?

I’ve done it again. Long article. Also, not only is this not sponsored product, I now probably have to buy some apology rounds of drinks for whoever did write the original ad copy. Sorry.

There, instead of configuring MIDI, you now have more time to read my blathering.

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Bitwig Studio is about to deliver on a fully modular core in a DAW

Bitwig Studio may have started in the shadow of Ableton, but one of its initial promises was building a DAW that was modular from the ground up. Bitwig Studio 3 is poised to finally deliver on that promise, with “The Grid.”

Having a truly modular system inside a DAW offers some tantalizing possibilities. It means, in theory at least, you can construct whatever you want from basic building blocks. And in the very opposite of today’s age of presets, that could make your music tool feel more your own.

Oh yeah, and if there is such an engine inside your DAW, you can also count on other people building a bunch of stuff you can reuse.

Why modulaity? It doesn’t have to just be about tinkering (though that can be fun for a lot of people).

A modular setup is the very opposite of a preset mentality for music production. Experienced users of these environments (software especially, since it’s open-ended) do often find that patching exactly what they need can be more creative and inspirational. It can even save time versus the effort spent trying to whittle away at a big, monolithic tool just go get to the bit you actually want. But the traditional environments for modular development are fairly unfriendly to new users – that’s why very often people’s first encounters with Max/MSP, SuperCollider, Pd, Reaktor, and the like is in a college course. (And not everyone has access to those.) Here, you get a toolset that could prove more manageable. And then once you have a patch you like, you can still interconnect premade devices – and you can work with clips and linear arrangement to actually finish songs. With the other tools, that often means coding out the structure of your song or trying to link up to a different piece of software.

We’ve seen other DAWs go modular in different ways. There’s Apple Logic’s now mostly rarely-used Environment. There’s Reason with its rich, patchable rack and devices. There’s Sensomusic Usine, which is a fully modular DAW / audio environment, and DMX lighting and video tool – perhaps the most modular of these (even relative to Bitwig Studio and The Grid). And of course there’s Ableton Live with Max for Live, though that’s really a different animal – it’s a full patching development environment that runs inside Live via a runtime, and API and interface hooks that allow you to access its devices. The upside: Max for Live can do just about everything. The downside: it’s mostly foreign to Ableton Live (as it’s a different piece of software with its own history), and it could be too deep for someone just wanting to build an effect or instrument.

So, enter The Grid. This is really the first time a relatively conventional DAW has gotten its own, native modular environment that can build instruments and effects. And it looks like it could be accomplished in a way that feels comfortable to existing users. You get a toolset for patching your own stuff inside the DAW, and you can even mix and match signal to outboard hardware modular if that’s your thing.

And it really focuses on sound applications, too, with three devices. One is dedicated to monophonic synths, one to polyphonic synths, and one to effects.

From there, you get a fully modular setup with a modern-looking UI and 120+ modules to choose from.

They’ve done a whole lot to ease the learning curve normally associated with these environments – smoothing out some of the wrinkles that usually baffle beginners:

You can patch anything to anything, in to out. All signals are interchangeable – connect any out to any in. Most other software environments don’t work that way, which can mean a steeper learning curve. (We’ll have to see how this works in practice inside The Grid).

Any in can go to any out – reducing some of the complexity of other patching environments (software and hardware alike).

Everything’s stereo. Here’s another way of reducing complexity. Normally, you have to duplicate signals to get stereo, which can be confusing for beginners. Here, every audio cable and every control cable routes stereo.

Everything’s also in living stereo, reducing cable count and cognitive effort.

There are default patchings. Funny enough, this idea has actually been seen on hardware – there are default routings so modules automatically wire themselves if you want, via what Bitwig calls “pre-cords.” That means if you’re new to the environment, you can always plug stuff in.

They’ve also promised to make phase easier to understand, which should open up creative use of time and modulation to those who may have been intimidated by these concepts before.

“Pre-cords” mean you can easily add default patchings to get stuff working straight away.

What fun is a modular tool if you can’t explore phase? Bitwig say they’ve made this concept more accessible to modulation and easier to learn.

There’s also a big advantage to this being native to the environment – again, something you could only really say about Sensomusic Usine before now (at least as far as things that could double as DAWs).

This unlocks:

  • Nesting and layering devices alongside other Bitwig devices
  • Full support from the Open Controller API. (Wow, this is a pain the moment you put something like Reaktor into another host, too.)
  • Route modulation out of your stuff from The Grid into other Bitwig devices.
  • Complete hardware modular integration – yeah, you can mix your software with hardware as if they’re one environment. Bitwig says they’ve included “dedicated grid modules for sending any control, trigger, or pitch signal as CV Out and receiving any CV In.”

I’ve been waiting for this basically since the beginning. This is an unprecedented level of integration, where every device you see in Bitwig Studio is already based on this modular environment. Bitwig had even touted that early on, but I think they were far overzealous with letting people know about their plans. It unsurprisingly took a while to make that interface user friendly, which is why it’ll be a pleasure to try this now and see how they’ve done. But Bitwig tells us this is in fact the same engine – and that the interface “melds our twin focus on modularity and swift workflows.”

There’s also a significant dedication to signal fidelity. There’s 4X oversampling throughout. That should generally sound better, but it also has implications for control and modularity. And it’ll make modulation more powerful in synthesis, Bitwig tells CDM:

With phase, sync, and pitch inputs on most every oscillator, there are many opportunities here for complex setups. Providing this additional bandwidth keeps most any patch or experiment from audible aliasing. As an open system, this type of optimization works for the most cases without overtaxing processors.

It’s stereo only, which puts it behind some of the multichannel capabilities of Reaktor, Max, SuperCollider, and others – Max/MSP especially given its recent developments. But that could see some growth in a later release, Bitwig hints. For now, I think stereo will keep us plenty busy.

They’ve also been busy optimizing, Bitwig tells us:

This is something we worked a lot on in early development, particularly optimizing performance on the oversampled, stereo paths to align with the vector units of desktop processors. In addition, the modules are compiled at runtime for the best performance on the particular CPU in use.

That’s a big deal. I’m also excited about using this on Linux – where, by the way, you can really easily use JACK to integrate other environments like SuperCollider or live coding tools.

If you’re at NAMM, Bitwig will show The Grid as part of Bitwig Studio 3. They have a release coming in the second quarter, but we’ll sit down with them here in Berlin for a detailed closer look (minus NAMM noise in the background or jetlag)!

Oh yeah, and if you’ve got the Upgrade Plan, it’s free.

This is really about making a fully modular DAW – as opposed to the fixed multitrack tape/mixer models of the past. Bitwig have even written up an article about how they see modularity and how it’s evolved over various release versions:

BEHIND THE SCENES: MODULARITY IN BITWIG STUDIO

More on Bitwig Studio 3:

https://www.bitwig.com/en/19/bitwig-studio-3

Obligatory:

Oh yeah, also Tron: Legacy seems like a better movie with French subtitles…

That last line fits: “And the world was more beautiful than I ever dreamed – and also more dangerous … hop in bed now, come on.”

Yeah, personal life / sleep … in trouble.

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Master your Roland TR-8S drum machine settings with a plug-in editor

Roland’s TR-8S added loads of parameters for shaping drum kits and effects. Now you can get at all of those without diving through menus with this VST/AU plug-in – and keep your drum machine settings stored with your project.

Hardware is great, but it introduces two problems. First, there are inevitably some parameters buried in menus that are hard to reach on the front panel, no matter how many knobs and faders makers add. Second, stuff you do on the hardware is likely to get out of sync with your DAW, leading to that invariable “what the Hell was this supposed to be?” feeling when you power things up. (Okay, sometimes that leads to happy accidents. Sometimes it just leads to misery.)

Momo Miller has been trucking through the full Roland range (plus KORG and Novation Circuit). He’s been adding plug-ins for just this reason. You get more accessible editing and control, and your settings stay inside your DAW projects for easy recall.

Now, first, what this isn’t: it isn’t a full-blown editor for the TR-8S. And it’s a shame, given Roland Cloud, that the manufacturer didn’t provide one. That also means loading custom samples on the TR-8S is a manual affair. This unofficial editor isn’t able to load sample files. And you don’t get full access to all of the TR-8S’ hidden parameters, like the deep settings per kit. So, Roland, if you’re listening – please, give us that.

You do, however, get a lot of access to parameters per sound and kit – basically, anything that has a MIDI CC assignment. And you can still save your changes on the hardware, for anything this controls. Plus you can save parameters separately in software. And there are some useful performance controller mappings.

Here’s what you get:

  • Full access to TR-8S parameters (as accessible via MIDI)
  • Control effects via custom-mapped X/Y performance controllers
  • Automation of parameters inside your DAW
  • Save parameter data with your DAW – including which kit was selected, which is invaluable on its own
  • Interactive visual display
  • 32-bit and 64-bit VST (Windows, Mac) AU (Mac) and standalone (Windows, Mac) versions

Have a look:

Price: 5,90€ / US$6.90

TR-8S editor/controller

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Reloop’s new RP-8000 MK2: instrumental pitch control, Serato integration

Like the relaunched Technics 1200, the new Reloop decks sport digitally controlled motors. But Reloop have gone somewhere very different from Technics: platters that can be controlled at a full range of pitches, and even play scales. And the RP-8000 MK2 is a MIDI controller, too, for Serato and other software.

Oh yeah, and one other thing – Reloop as always is more affordable – a pair of RP-8000 MK2s costs the same as one SL-1200 MK7. (One deck is EUR600 / USD700 / GBP525).

And there’s a trend beyond these decks. Mechanical engineers rejoice – the age of the motor is here.

238668 Reloop RP-8000 MK2

We’re seeing digitally controlled motors for haptic feedback, as on the new Native Instruments S4 DJ controllers. And we’re seeing digital control on motors providing greater reliability, more precision, and broader ranges of speed on conventional turntables.

So digitally controlled motors were what Technics was boasting earlier this week with their SL-1200 MK7, which they say borrows from Blu-Ray drive technology (Technics is a Panasonic brand).

Reloop have gone one step further on the RP-8000 MK2. “Platter Play” rotates the turntable platter at different speeds to produce different pitches – rapidly. You can use the colored pads on the turntable, or connect an external MIDI keyboard.

That gives the pads a new life, as something integral to the turntable instead of just a set of triggers for software. (I’m checking with Reloop to find out if the performance pads require Serato to work, but either way, they do actually impact the platter rotation – it’s a physical result.)

238668 Reloop RP-8000 MK2

Serato and Reloop have built a close relationship with turntablists; this lets them build the vinyl deck into a more versatile instrument. It’s still an analog/mechanical device, but with a greater range of playing options thanks to digital tech under the hook. Call it digital-kinetic-mechanical.

Also digital: the pitch fader Reloop. (Reloop call it “high-resolution.”) Set it to +- 8% (hello Technics-style pitch), or +/- 16% for a wider range (hello, Romanian techno, -16%), or an insane +/- 50%. That’s the actual platter speed we’re talking here. (Makes sense – platters on CDs and Blu-Ray spin far, far faster.)

With quartz lock on, the same mechanism will simply play your records more accurately at a steady pitch (0%).

The pitch fader and motor mechanism are both available on the RP-7000 MK2, for more traditional turntable operation The performance pad melodic control is on the 8000, the one intended for Serato users.

Serato integration

I expect some people want their controller and their deck separate – playing vinyl means bringing actual vinyl records, and playing digital means using a controller and computer, or for many people, just a USB stick and CDJs.

If you want that, you can grab the RP-7000 MK2 for just 500 bucks a deck, minus the controller features.

On the RP-8000 MK2, you get a deck that adds digital features you’ve seen on controllers and CDJs directly on the deck. As on the original RP-8000, Reloop are the first to offer Serato integration. And it’s implemented as MIDI, so you can work with third-party software as well. The market is obviously DVS users.

The original RP offered Cue, Loop, Sample and Slicer modes with triggers on the left-hand side. Plus you get a digital readout above the pitch fader.

On the MK2, the numeric display gives you even more feedback: pitch, BPM, deck assignment, scales and notes, elapsed/remaining time of current track, plus firmware settings.

New playback and platter control options on the Reloop RP-8000 MK2.

The pads have new performance modes, too: Cue, Sampler, Saved Loops, Pitch Play, Loop, Loop Roll, Slicer, and two user-assignable modes (for whatever functions you want).

Reloop have also upgraded the tone arm base for greater reliability and more adjustments.

And those performance modes look great – 22 scales and 34 notes, plus up to 9 user-defined scales.

For more integration, Reloop are also offering the Reloop Elite, a DVS-focused mixer with a bunch of I/O, displays that integrate with the software, and more RGB-colored performance triggers and other shortcuts.

https://www.reloop.com/reloop-elite

One of these things is not like the others: the new kit still requires a laptop to run Serato.

If I had any complaint, it’s this: when will Serato do their own standalone embedded hardware in place of the computer? I know many DJs are glad to bring a computer – and Reloop claims the controls on the deck eliminate the need for a standalone controller (plus they have that new mixer with still more Serato integration). But it seems still a bummer to have to buy and maintain a PC or Mac laptop as part of the deal. And if you’re laying out a couple grand on hardware, wouldn’t you be willing to buy an embedded solution that let you work without a computer? (Especially since Serato is an integrated environment, and would run on embedded machines. Why not stick an ARM board in there to run those displays and just read your music off USB?)

As for Reloop, they’re totally killing it with affordable turntables. If you just want some vinyl playback and basic DJing for your home or studio, in December they also unveiled the RP-2000 USB MK2. USB interface (for digitization or DVS control), direct drive control (so you can scratch on it), under 300 bucks.

https://www.reloop.com/

Previously in phonographs:

The Technics SL-1200 is back, and this time for DJs again

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What could make APC Live, MPC cool: Akai’s new software direction

Akai tipped their hand late last year that they were moving more toward live performance. With APC Live hardware leaked and in the wild, maybe it’s time to take another look. MPC software improvements might interest you with or without new hardware.

MPC 2.3 software dropped mid-November. We missed talking about it at the time. But now that we’re (reasonably certain, unofficially) that Akai is releasing new hardware, it puts this update in a new light. Background on that:

APC as standalone hardware? Leaked Akai APC Live

Whether or not the leaked APC Live hardware appeals to you, Akai are clearly moving their software in some new directions – which is relevant whatever hardware you choose. We don’t yet know if the MPC Live hardware will get access to the APC Live’s Matrix Mode, but it seems a reasonable bet some if not all of the APC Live features are bound for MPC Live, too.

And MPC 2.3 added major new live performance features, as well as significant internal synths, to that standalone package. Having that built in means you get it even without a computer.

New in 2.3:

Three synths:

  • A vintage-style, modeled analog polysynth
  • A bass synth
  • A tweakable, physically modeled electric piano

Tubesynth – an analog poly.

Electric’s physically-modeled keys.

Electric inside the MPC Live environment.

As with NI’s Maschine, each of those can be played from chords and scales with the pads mode. But Maschine requires a laptop, of course – MPC Live doesn’t.

A new arpeggiator, with four modes of operation, ranging from traditional vintage-style arp to more modern, advanced pattern playback

And there’s an “auto-sampler.”

That auto-sampler looks even more relevant when you see the APC Live. On MPC Live (and by extension APC Live), you can sample external synths, sample VST plug-ins, and even capture outboard CV patches.

Of course, this is a big deal for live performance. Plug-ins won’t work in standalone mode – and can be CPU hogs, anyway – so you can conveniently capture what you’re doing. Got some big, valuable vintage gear or a modular setup you don’t to take to the gig? Same deal. And then this box gives you the thing modular instruments don’t do terribly well – saving and recalling settings – since you can record and restore those via the control voltage I/O (also found on that new APC Live). The auto-sampler is an all-in-one solution for making your performances more portable.

Full details of the 2.3 update – though I expect we’ve got even more new stuff around the corner:

http://www.akaipro.com/pages/mpc-2.3-desktop-software-and-firmware-update

With or without the APC Live, you get the picture. While Ableton and Native Instruments focus on studio production and leave you dependent on the computer, Akai’s angle is creating an integrated package you can play live with – like, onstage.

Sure enough, Akai have been picking up large acts to their MPC Live solution, too – John Mayer, Metallica, and Chvrches all got named dropped. Of those, let’s check out Chvrches – 18 minutes in, the MPC Live gets showcased nicely:

It makes sense Akai would come to rely on its own software. When Akai and Novation released their first controllers for Ableton Live, Ableton had no hardware of their own, which changed with Push. But of course even the first APC invoked the legendary MPC legacy – and Akai has for years been working on bringing desktop software functionality to the MPC name. So, while some of us (me included) first suspected a standalone APC Live might mean a collaboration with Ableton, it does make more sense that it’s a fully independent Akai-made, MPC-style tool.

It also makes sense that this means, for now, more internal functionality. (The manual reference to “plugins” in the APC Live manual that leaked probably means those internal instruments and effects.) That has more predictability as far as resource consumption, and means avoiding the licensing issues necessary and the like to run plug-ins in embedded Linux. This could change, by the way – Propellerhead’s Rack Extensions format now is easily portable to ARM processors, for example – but that’s another story. As far as VST, AU, and AAX, portability to embedded hardware is still problematic.

The upshot of this, though, is that InMusic at least has a strategy for hardware that functions on its own – not just as a couple of one-off MPC pieces, but in terms of integrated hardware/software development across a full product line. Native Instruments, Ableton, and others might be working on something like that that lets you untether from the computer, but InMusic is shipping now, and they aren’t.

Now the question is whether InMusic can capitalize on its MPC legacy and the affection for the MPC and APC brands and workflows – and get people to switch from other solutions.

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Hands-on: Complex-1 puts West Coast-inspired modular in Reason

Propellerhead has unveiled a modular instrument add-on for Reason, Complex-1. It puts a patchable, West Coast-inspired synth inside the already patchable Reason environment – and it sounds fabulous.

Complex-1 is a monophonic modular synth delivered as a Rack Extension, available now. What you get is a selection of modules, with a combination of Buchla- and Moog-inspired synths, and some twists from Propellerhead. You can patch these right on the front panel – not the back panel as you normally would in Reason – and combine the results with your existing Reason rack. The ensemble is very West Coast-ish, as in Buchla-inspired, but also with some unique character of its own and modern twists and amenities you would expect now.

Propellerhead have also a lot of design decisions that allow you to easily patch anything to anything, which is great for happy mistakes and unusual sounds – for beginners or advanced users alike. The three oscillators each have ranges large enough to act as modulation sources, and to tune paraphonic setups if you so wish.

Prepare to get lost in this: the recent Quad Note Generator is a perfect pairing with Complex-1.

What’s inside:
Complex Osc This is the most directly Buchla-like module – subsonic to ultrasonic range, FM & AM, and lots of choices for shaping its dual oscillators.

Noise source, OSC 3 Noise sources including red, plus an additional oscillator (OSC 3) with a range large enough to double as a modulation source.

Comb delay If the Complex Osc didn’t get you, the comb delay should – you can use this for string models by tuning the delay with feedback, as well as all the usual comb delay business.

Filter Here’s the East Coast ingredient – a Moog-style ladder filter with drive, plus both high pass and low pass outputs you can use simultaneously.

Low Pass Gates Two LPGs (envelope + filter you can trigger) give you more West Coast-style options, including envelope follower functions.

Shaper Distortion, wavefolding, and whatnot.

More modules: LFO, ADSR envelope, output mixer, plus a really handy Mix unit, Lag, Scale & amp, Clock & LFO + Clock 2. There’s also a useful oscilloscope.

Sequencer plus Quant: You can easily use step sequencers from around Reason, but there’s also a step sequencer in Complex-1 itself, useful for storing integrated patches. Quant also lets you tune to a range of scales.

Function: A lot of the hidden power of Complex-1 is here – there’s a function module with various algorithms.

Yes, you can make complex patches with Complex-1.

The dual advantages of Complex-1: one, it’s an integrated instrument all its own, but two, it can live inside the existing Reason environment.

I’ve had my hands on Complex-1 since I visited Propellerhead HQ last week and walked through a late build last week. Full disclosure: I was not immediately convinced this was something I needed personally. The thing is, we’re spoiled for choice, and software lovers are budget-minded. So while a hundred bucks barely buys you one module in the hardware world, in software, it buys a heck of a lot. That’s the entry price for Softube Modular, for VCV Rack and a couple of nice add-ons, and for Cherry Audio’s Voltage Modular (at least at its current sale price, with a big bundle of extras).

Not to mention, Reason itself is a modular environment.

But there are a few things that make Complex-1 really special.

It’s a complete, integrated modular rig. This is important – VCV Rack, Softube Modular, Voltage Modular, and Reason itself are all fun because you can mix and match modules.

But it’s creatively inspiring to work with Complex-1 for the opposite reason. You have a fixed selection of modules, with some basic workflows already in mind. It immediately takes me back to the first vintage Buchla system I worked on for that reason. You still have expansive possibilities, but within something that feels like an instrument – modular patching, but not the added step of choosing which modules. The team at Propellerhead talked about their admiration for the Buchla Music Easel. This isn’t an emulation of that – Arturia have a nice Music Easel in software if that’s what you want – but rather takes that same feeling of focusing on a toolkit and provides a modern, Propellerhead-style take on the concept.

It sounds fantastic. This one’s hard to overstate, so it’s better to just go give the trial a spin. In terms of specs, Propellerhead points to their own DSP and 4X oversampling everywhere. In practice, it means even just a stupidly-simple patch with raw oscillators sounds gorgeous and lush. I love digital sounds and aliasing and so on, but… it’s nice to have this end of the spectrum, too. You get a weird, uncanny feeling of lying in bed with a laptop and some studio headphones and hearing your own music as if it’s a long-lost 1970s electronic classic. It’s almost too easy to sound good. Tell your friends you’ll see them in the spring because for now you want to spend some time along pretending you’re Laurie Spiegel.

It lives inside Reason. The other reality is, it’s really fun having this inside Reason, where you can combine your patches into Combinators and work with all the other pattern sequencers and effects and whatnot. You can also make elaborate polysynths by stacking instances of Complex-1.

There’s basic CV and audio interconnectivity with your rack. This may look meager at first, but I found this in addition to the Combinator opens a lot of possibilities, especially for playing live/improvising.

You get loads of presets, of course, which will appeal to those not wanting to get lost in patching. But I also welcome that Propellerhead included a set of basic templates as starting points for those who do want to explore.

Patching is also really easy, though I miss being able to re-patch from both sides of a cable as in a lot of software modulars. Better is the hide/unhide cables functionality, so you can make the patch cables disappear for easier control of the front panel. (Why don’t all software modulars have this feature, actually?)

You don’t get unlimited patchability between Complex-1 and the rest of Reason. For simplicity, you’re limited to note/MIDI input (from other devices as well as externally), basic CV input and output, and input to the sequencer. There’s also a very useful audio input. That may disappoint some people who wanted more options, though it still provides a lot of power.

Mostly I want to buy a really big touch display for Windows and use that. And with this kind of software out there, I may not be looking at hardware so much. I even expect to use this live.

Some sounds for you (while I work on sharing some of my own):

Complex-1 Rack Extension

Complex-1 in the shop

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Reason 10.3 will improve VST performance – here’s how

VST brings more choice to Reason, but more support demands, too. Here’s an update on how Propellerhead are optimizing Reason to bring plug-in performance in line with what users expect.

For years, Reason was a walled-off garden. Propellerhead resisted supporting third-party plug-ins, and when they did, introduced their own native Rack Extensions technology for supporting them. That enables more integrated workflows, better user experience, greater stability, and easier installation and updates than a format like VST or AU allows.

But hey, we have a lot of VSTs we want to run inside Reason, engineering arguments be damned. And so Propellerhead finally listened to users, delivering support for VST effects and instruments on Mac and Windows in Reason 9.5. (Currently only VST2 plug-ins are supported, not VST3.)

Propellerhead have been working on improving stability and performance continuously since then. Reason 10.3 is a much-anticipated update, because it addresses a significant performance issue with VST plug-ins – without disrupting one of the things that makes Reason’s native devices work well.

The bad news is, 10.3 is delayed.

The good news is, it works really well. It puts Reason on par with other DAWs as far as VST performance. That’s a big deal to Reason users, just because in many other ways Reason is unlike other DAWs.

I met with Propellerhead engineers yesterday in Stockholm, including Mattias Häggström Gerdt (product manager for Reason). We got to discuss the issue, their whole development effort, and get hands-on with their alpha version.

Why this took a while

Okay, first, some technical discussion. “Real time” is actually not a thing in digital hardware and software. The illusion of a system working in real time is created by buffering – using very small windows of time to pass audio information, so small that the results seem instantaneous to the user.

There’s a buffer size you set for your audio interface – this one you may already know about. But software also have internal buffers for processing, hidden to the user. In a modular environment, you really want this buffer to be as small as possible, so that patching and processing feels reponsive – just as it would if you were using analog hardware. Reason accordingly has an internal buffer of 64 frames to do just that. That means without any interruptions to your audio stream, you can patch and repatch and tweak and play to your heart’s content.

Here’s the catch: some plug-ins developers for design reasons prefer larger buffers (higher latency), in order to reduce CPU consumption even though their plug-in technically work in Reason’s small buffer environment. This is common in plug-ins where ultra-low latency internal processing isn’t as important. But running inside Reason, that approach adds strain to your CPU. Some users won’t notice anything, because they don’t use these plug-ins or use fewer instances of them. But some will see their machine run out of CPU resources faster in Reason than in other DAWs. The result: the same plug-in setup you used in another DAW will make Reason sputter, which is of course not what you want.

Another catch: if you have ever tried adjusting the audio buffer size on your interface to reduce CPU usage, in this case, that won’t help. So users encountering this issue are left frustrated.

This is a fixable problem. You give those plug-ins larger buffers when they demand them, while Reason and its devices continue to work as they always have. It’s just there’s a lot of work going back through all the rest of Reason’s code to adjust for the change. And like a lot of coding work, that takes time. Adding more people doesn’t necessarily even speed this up, either. (Ever tried adding more people to a kitchen to “speed up” cooking dinner? Like that.)

When it’s done, existing Reason users won’t notice anything. But users of the affected plug-ins will see big performance gains.

What to expect when it ships

I sat with the engineers looking at an alpha and we measured CPU usage. The results by plug-in are what you might expect.

We worked with three plug-ins by way of example – charts are here. With Izotope Ozone 7, there’s a massive gain in the new build. That makes sense – a mastering plug-in isn’t so concerned about low latency performance. With Xfer Records Serum, there’s almost none. Native Instruments’ Massive is somewhere in between. These are just typical examples – many other plug-ins will also fall along this range.

Native Instruments’ Massive gets a marginal but significant performance boost. Left: before. Right: after.

iZotope’s Ozone is a more dramatic example. Stack some instances of this mastering-focused plug-in, and you can max out the CPU quickly in Reason. (left) But in Reason 10.3 alpha, you can see the “big batch” approach yields resolves that performance issue. (right)

Those graphs are on the Mac but OS in this case won’t really matter.

The fix is coming to the public. The alpha is not something you want to run; it’s already in the hands of testers who don’t mind working with prerelease softare. A public beta won’t happen in the couple of weeks we have left in 2018, but it is coming soon – as soon as it’s done. And of course 10.3 will be a free upgrade for Reason 10 users.

When it ships, Reason 10.3 will give you performance on par with other DAWs. That is, your performance will depend on your CPU and which plug-ins you’re using, but Reason will be more or less the same as other hosts beyond that.

So this isn’t really exciting stuff, but it will make your life easier. We’ll let you know how it comes and try to test that final version.

Official announcement:

Update on Reason and VST performance

For more on Reason and VST support, see their support section:

Propellerhead Software Rack Extensions, ReFills and VSTs VSTs

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Cherry Audio Voltage Modular: a full synth platform, open to developers

Hey, hardware modular – the computer is back. Cherry Audio’s Voltage Modular is another software modular platform. Its angle: be better for users — and now, easier and more open to developers, with a new free tool.

Voltage Modular was shown at the beginning of the year, but its official release came in September – and now is when it’s really hitting its stride. Cherry Audio’s take certainly isn’t alone; see also, in particular, Softube Modular, the open source VCV Rack, and Reason’s Rack Extensions. Each of these supports live patching of audio and control signal, hardware-style interfaces, and has rich third-party support for modules with a store for add-ons. But they’re all also finding their own particular take on the category. That means now is suddenly a really nice time for people interested in modular on computers, whether for the computer’s flexibility, as a supplement to hardware modular, or even just because physical modular is bulky and/or out of budget.

So, what’s special about Voltage Modular?

Easy patching. Audio and control signals can be freely mixed, and there’s even a six-way pop-up multi on every jack, so each jack has tons of routing options. (This is a computer, after all.)

Each jack can pop up to reveal a multi.

It’s polyphonic. This one’s huge – you get true polyphony via patch cables and poly-equipped modules. Again, you know, like a computer.

It’s open to development. There’s now a free Module Designer app (commercial licenses available), and it’s impressively easy to code for. You write DSP in Java, and Cherry Audio say they’ve made it easy to port existing code. The app also looks like it reduces a lot of friction in this regard.

There’s an online store for modules – and already some strong early contenders. You can buy modules, bundles, and presets right inside the app. The mighty PSP Audioware, as well as Vult (who make some of my favorite VCV stuff) are already available in the store.

There’s an online store for free and paid add-ons – modules and presets. But right now, a hundred bucks gets you started with a bunch of stuff right out of the gate.

Voltage Modular is a VST/AU/AAX plug-in and runs standalone. And it supports 64-bit double-precision math with zero-latency module processes – but, impressively in our tests, isn’t so hard on your CPU as some of its rivals.

Right now, Voltage Modular Core + Electro Drums are on sale for just US$99.

Real knobs and patch cords are fun, but … let’s be honest, this is a hell of a lot of fun, too.

For developers

So what about that development side, if that interests you? Well, Apple-style, there’s a 70/30 split in developers’ favor. And it looks really easy to develop on their platform:

Java may be something of a bad word to developers these days, but I talked to Cherry Audio about why they chose it, and it definitely makes some sense here. Apart from being a reasonably friendly language, and having unparalleled support (particularly on the Internet connectivity side), Java solves some of the pitfalls that might make a modular environment full of third-party code unstable. You don’t have to worry about memory management, for one. I can also imagine some wackier, creative applications using Java libraries. (Want to code a MetaSynth-style image-to-sound module, and even pull those images from online APIs? Java makes it easy.)

Just don’t think of “Java” as in legacy Java applications. Here, DSP code runs on a Hotspot virtual machine, so your DSP is actually running as machine language by the time it’s in an end user patch. It seems Cherry have also thought through GUI: the UI is coded natively in C++, while you can create custom graphics like oscilloscopes (again, using just Java on your side). This is similar to the models chosen by VCV and Propellerhead for their own environments, and it suggests a direction for plug-ins that involves far less extra work and greater portability. It’s no stretch to imagine experienced developers porting for multiple modular platforms reasonably easily. Vult of course is already in that category … and their stuff is so good I might almost buy it twice.

Or to put that in fewer words: the VM can match or even best native environments, while saving developers time and trouble.

Cherry also tell us that iOS, Linux, and Android could theoretically be supported in the future using their architecture.

Of course, the big question here is installed user base and whether it’ll justify effort by developers, but at least by reducing friction and work and getting things rolling fairly aggressively, Cherry Audio have a shot at bypassing the chicken-and-egg dangers of trying to launch your own module store. Plus, while this may sound counterintuitive, I actually think that having multiple players in the market may call more attention to the idea of computers as modular tools. And since porting between platforms isn’t so hard (in comparison to VST and AU plug-in architectures), some interested developers may jump on board.

Well, that and there’s the simple matter than in music, us synth nerds love to toy around with this stuff both as end users and as developers. It’s fun and stuff. On that note:

Modulars gone soft

Stay tuned; I’ve got this for testing and will let you know how it goes.

https://cherryaudio.com/voltage-modular

https://cherryaudio.com/voltage-module-designer

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