It happens. You get older. Slower. You wake up one day, and you’re definitely not a YouTube star with your own Patreon account and free sound pack downloads to go with it. You didn’t even figure out that there was a big trend involving something called fidget toys, “spinners” and “cubes” that kids use to … fidget … with. And already that trend is big enough that someone is making music with them.
This story might be about me. It might be about you. But it’s okay – because Andrew Huang is there. His followers are telling him about the fidget toys. He’s turning that trend into sweet, sweet music.
You can fake it, too. You can download his Ableton pack, and show it off to your friends, then roll your eyes in disgust when they say they’ve no idea what any of this stuff is – as if. Youth restored.
Or you can pick up some tips. (Basically, use some EQ to filter out pitched sound from noise, use Sampler/Simpler in Ableton or something similar to play these up and down the keyboard. Now, this is 80s sampler stuff. I even was there for the 80s. Advantage: gen X and above.) And maybe you’re on top of the next Internet meme. Better watch closely, though – don’t flinch just because the President of the United States is tweeting. Stay on your game.
Or just sit back with a cool drink and watch the YouTube. Life is good. We live in the future.
Elektron’s Octatrack has been around since 2010, with Digitakt about to make its launch. But it remains a bedrock of a lot of live rigs. And there’s something that’s still special about it. It’s a sampler, yes, but with eight tracks and a built-in sequencer. It’s got a deep effects section and loads of I/O. In other words, it’s a digital box that assumes a lot of the collection of functions that are the reason to lug along a laptop. It does that job of playing tracks, sequences, and effects in an improvisatory way – whether closer to live playing or DJing.
The trick is understanding how to do that. And while loading up tracks and pressing play may sound boring, that could free you up to actually experiment with effects and transitions over top rather than just the busywork of reinventing the same material. (That’s especially important if you want to play the stuff people expect from your record.)
Cuckoo continues his terrific series of video tutorial videos with a comprehensive starter’s guide to doing just that.
The first few minutes are just the basics – the backing track bit. But about nine minutes in, you start to get to the interesting stuff. That includes making the whole setup playable, using effects like beat repeat creatively, and employing the Octatrack’s unique onboard crossfader as “scene slider.”
Of course, the other advantage of automating some of this stuff is that it allows the Octatrack to be effective at the center of a rig with other gear – or even that computer, in fact.
Have a look:
If you want more, he’s got a whole series of videos on how to use the Octatrack – and some live jams of his own. It winds up being somehow better than even Elektron’s documentation – but I think it will always be important to have tutorial content from artists’ perspectives.
Getting in the zone is a beautiful thing – that feeling when music seems to almost play itself, when it really feels new.
Just like you do a lot of preparation and practice as a musician to get there, when you make instruments, you’re endlessly learning how to make help people find that zone. And that’s ultimately why I feel lucky to be involved in making instruments as well as making music – with CDM generally, and with our own toes in the water, MeeBlip.
Now, as it happens, people are making amazing things with the MeeBlip (alongside the other gear we talk about). Who says there’s too much music or too many musicians – or too many synths? Watching this, we want more of all of it.
And so here you go – out of all the many jams, here are a few favorites that surprised us and that might inspire you.
Don’t forget to join in. We ship MeeBlip worldwide direct from the workbench, where they’re tested and assembled by the person who designed them (James Grahame).
In addition to our just-announced free editor, we’re offering a deal on everything you need for triode – cables and USB MIDI interface (Mac/Windows/Linux) – in a bundle, now with $40 off.
Someone got into a trance state on, like, their porch — with just MeeBlip, transforming their backyard into a sort of alien ritual of sound:
Here’s MeeBlip anode being sequenced by Forever Beats – a MIDI sequencer I would otherwise not know about, honestly! (Looks great – buying!)
I hoped someone would use the Millennium Falcon-shaped Casio XW-PD1 as a sequencer, and here’s wonderful, melodic, trippy music doing just that —
Casio XW-PD1 sequencing the Twisted Electron AY3 and the Meeblip Anode. The AY3 gets a Behringer RV600 verb treatment, and the Anode gets a Moozikpro analog delay treatment. Drums coming from the XW-PD1. 8 patterns in all.
MegaMorph is a new prototype project with powerful, musical transformations between scenes. Here, MeeBlip is sounding plenty grimy atop a hypnotic, dreamy synth sea (subscribing and watching for more on this project):
Live demonstration of MegaMorph prototype for controlling and morphing complete setups via midi, here including
triode, volca and mfb sound parameters, XR-18 mixer levels and x0x bio-arpeggiator settings.
Sequencing: x0xb0x (own “bioarp” OS) + volca fm arpeggiator
Control: MegaMorph (midi fighter twister + matlab scripts on minix mini pc + iConnect mio10), miditech keyboard
I’m going to close again with Olivier, whose inspired others to jam along by championing Jamuary. And I think that’s the whole point. While the rest of the industry worries how to produce stars, we can all learn from one another.
The Internet: it’s still doing crazy things with MIDI.
Just in the last few days, we’ve seen MIDI musical inventions go freshly viral. And keep reading even if you’ve seen some of that, as we’ve got a little bonus for you to get in on the fun.
It started with producer Aleksander Vinter, aka Savant – whose work extends to popular game scores. He created patterns like this one that double both as recognizable picture (a bird, reminiscent of vintage text art), and as compelling musical figuration. Behold:
Alexander Huang also gave us a clever tutorial, of course, so you can try this yourself:
What makes this particularly unique is really that the musical patterns generated are all tonal – doodling images that double as contrapuntal fantasy. But maybe that leaves you wanting something more, well, primal.
Erson Rybod writes CDM to share his own tool for just that. (He even gives us a quick bio, “i have no face, i also like to play with hacks.” Our kinda person/alien/thing/whatever, Erson is.
Erson urges us to “see no evil” (really, that’s in the email) but to download a free Mac-compatible app for making your own black MIDI:
i uploaded my diy app i made to turn any picture into midi file (black midi)
you can download it here i also puted a midi exemple with aliens
AMULETS is Randall Taylor, a one-man experimental looping ambient artist out of Austin, Texas who works with tape loops and guitar. And to start off the year, Randall wants to show you a key element of his technique – making tape loops from cassette tapes.
Tape loops, as associated with the likes of Steve Reich, began mainly on reel-to-reel decks. Using a cassette means some more precise surgery. There’s the cassette housing to contend with, mainly – which means disassembling and then (importantly) re-assembling a delicate plastic case. And the tape itself is smaller, too – 0.15 inches rather than 0.25 inches.
But there are some advantages to working this way. Apart from the ready availability of cassettes and the ease with which you can record on them, you win up with the loop on a self-contained cassette.
And whether or not you venture into the world of splicing cassette tape, you owe it to yourself to listen to AMULETS’ music. The sounds are fragile, rough-hewn, guitars melting into gaping chasms and caves, as if he’s sculpting with the tentative magnetic particles of the tapes.
It’s sure to earn some comparisons to other ambient varieties, but there’s some unique sensibility here. And he’s insanely prolific, carving out tape releases in a steady stream.
To layer the sounds, he uses dual four-track recorders, as in this video for National Public Radio in the USA. I bristle a little at how not using a computer has become a band of honor, but here, it’s necessary to understanding the physical reality of what you’re hearing and the directness with which he composes. That Tascam is his axe as much as the guitar, and so it’s fittingly memorialized in enamel pins and album artwork.
There’s a surprising treasure trove of tape music and tape loop how-to’s on YouTube, covering just about every conceivable technique and hardware. You’re liable to be able to plan around whatever used hardware you’ve rummaged, rather than the other way around.
One of the best comes from Chris Randall, aka both the mastermind behind Analog Industries / Audio Damage / blog plug-ins and modular hardware and a gifted musician himself. For the high-end loop, you get to do this one with a Nagra:
It’s funny, actually: this kind of tape imperfection is as I understand it genuinely one of the hardest things to model in the digital realm. I think it probably would be valuable to get better models, as you could imagine sound degradation that could never exist in the real world. But here, it might miss the point anyway: these pieces are kinetic sculptures and live magneto-mechanical instruments, not just particular sounds.
I love this ensemble ambient work:
AMULETS has you well covered on social media identities; find them all on his site:
We can reinvent the instruments we already have; we can try to steer a pathway to something new. Or we can sometimes imagine a known instrument in a new context.
This new short film covers a robotic piano that’s got an unusual angle. Using image analysis, those mechanical fingers transpose patterns of cloud and sky onto the keys.
This poetic take on cloud gazing comes from media artist David Bowen. It’s a nice take, I think, on sonification, in that it isn’t just about a stream of data that’s abstracted from its source. It’s really as though the drifting clouds could play the keys – like something out of a childhood daydream.