Yeah I know, it’s almost March but February in music tech terms is sort of that long dark teatime of the soul between the madness of NAMM and the inevitable disappointment of MusikMesse. Not a whole lot going on, other than a bit of snow. Well i’ve managed to dredge up a handful of things like this:
Studio Electronics got missed at NAMM but actually had cool boxes and a big knob for the SE-02. MIDI Manufacturers Associated officially adopt MPE and M-CI. Ableton Live 10 is released and gives us lots more of the same. Erica Synths updates their mini modular Pico system. Output puts down the furniture and gives us some analog brass and wind. I discovered a cool touchpad thingy on Kickstarter. The Spink0 Ableton Link for Eurorack is a reality. Gibson implodes while Native Instruments honours the Les Paul with a virtual version so you’ll never need a real one. And there’s this really could touch-plate thing called TSNM. Told you it was slim pickings this month and a bloody good job too because it’s freezing out here.
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But first news that Cakewalk has been purchased from the Gibson fire sale by someone called BandLab – who? I know right. They are out of Singapore, they are just over a year old and have been buying up all sorts of things including almost half of Rolling Stone magazine. Who are these guys? So i had a bit of a google and it turns out BandLab is an online DAW, that’s completely free and used by millions of people. It works in your browser and actually looks quite groovy. Funny how it’s just never come across my radar before. Apparently they have saved the jobs of a lot of Cakewalk employees, which is awesome, and who knows where those decades of experience and technology will take them. It’s an awesome thing and the best decision Gibson have made in a long time. Maybe if a few of us get together we could buy Opcode off them? Got to be worth a fiver.
Somehow managed to miss Studio Electronics at NAMM when they actually had some pretty cool things happening. It feels a bit like Studio Electronics are still trying to find their feet in a vastly changed synth landscape. It used to be pretty just them making analogue synths and the whirlwind of Eurorack and the hardware synth explosion has left them at times looking like old fuddy duddies. Well they’ve taken some steps to jazz up their Boomstar range which used to look like high school electronic projects. These are a lot more like it! Boomstars are basically the same analog synth archtecture with a choice of filters – there’s the SEM, the CS-80, the Moog, ARP, 303 Roland and now a new one the 8106 Jupiter/Juno filter. At over $1000 a pop they are expensive by today’s standards but they also some of the best sounding analog synths out there.
They also had a little expander for the SE-02. The SE-02 is this awesome monosynth they did with Roland – but what you don’t realise until you use one is that due to the Boutique form factor the knobs are pitifully small. So Studio Electronics have built an expander which has a whacking great big filter knob on it plus some proper sized connections – the SE-02 has all minijack sockets. It’s a great thing, i’m sure it annoys the heck out of Roland – but those Boutique boxes really are too small.
MPE and MCI
I spoke the other month about the drive to get MPE and M-CI adopted by the MIDI industry. Well, now it’s happened. The MIDI Manufacturers Association has officially adopted it into the spec. What am i talking about? MPE used to be multi dimension polyphony expression, but now it’s been renamed into the more managable MIDI Polyphonic Expression – it’s what you get with those ROLI keyboards, all that expression and modulation data produced per note. It does it by routing different notes over different MIDI channels so that they can be treated individually. It’s genius and uses the existing MIDI spec to do it – it just needs support in DAWs and instruments in order to make the best of itself. I did a review of the ROLI Seaboard where I tell you all about it.
MIDI-CI or Capability Enquiry is slightly different. It’s the idea where MIDI instruments can have a conversation and pull data from each other so that they can work more seamlessly. It involves manufacturers adhering to categories when all the same controls on similar instruments can be addressed the same. So if it’s an organ then all the drawbars will have the same control numbers as any other organ. The idea is that it allows you to swap out a similar instrument and have all your controller data still work as expected. Along with that is an exchange of data like patch names, mapping, parameters. And ultimately if it doesnt work it will just use regular MIDI.
All of this is going to make working with MIDI and instruments, virtual and hardware, so much more fluid. It’s the most exciting thing to happen to MIDI in about 30 years – yay!
Ableton Live 10
Ableton Live 10 is released! Yay! And it really is just more of the same. Of course there’s plenty of new bits and pieces, new instrument, new devices, folderised tracks, this background recording business that Pro Tools gazumped them on a couple of weeks before. It’s all good though. I have to say that the small adjustments they’ve made to the interface do make it feel clean and fresh and better and that’s very welcome indeed. From a touch-screen and Surface point of view they have now built in direct support for Absolute Mouse Mode – this is where the faders and knobs respond properly to touch rather than wanging off all over the place. To enable it is just a tick box rather than messing around in the options.txt file – hooray! However, it’s still just single finger touch and those clips haven’t got any bigger so it’s still a pain in the arse to use on a touch screen.
Erica Synths make these cool 3HP mini modules called their Pico range – they’ve got a module for everything. Anyway, they put them together into a single case to create the Pico System and it’s flippin’ cool – it’s a complete modular music making system. Well they’ve just updated it with some of their latest modules to give it some more variation. You get lets of wavetable sounds, a polivoks filter, sequencer, trigger sequencer, random, envelope, VCA, mixer and some DSP. For €1111.11 you get a phenomenal modular system ready to go that can always grow bigger.
Output Analog Brass and Winds
Output seemed to take a strange turn into making studio furniture, but now they’re back with what they do best – weirdly wonderful sample based virtual instruments. And i love what they do with their GUIs, all weird pipes and sliders – just lovely. Anyway, they sampled an 18 piece brass section and an 18 piece wind section using hand-picked musicians – i guess they lined them up against a wall and picked them out like choosing a school team leaving the rubbish ones standing there feeling crap about themselves.
The sound is all about taking something traditional and lovely and then mangling the heck out of it – in lovely and compelling ways. You can produce all sorts of fabulous nonsense from these breathy and emotional sounds.
Here’s a groovy idea. It’s a little 6×6 touchpad that you can program to trigger whatever shortcuts, macros or commands you like. It becomes a little pad of shortcuts – tools and things. It would make a great companion to using any DAW – rather than having to remember keyboard shortcuts. Or perhaps even better when combined with a touch screen. It has a transparent overlay that you can colour in to indicate what they do. All the editing is done in a text editor, which is a bit lo-fi. It’s based on an Arduino so you can make it do whatever you like if you fancy a bit of programming. At 50 quid it might be both cheap enough and useful enough to make it onto your desktop – hmmmm.
A while ago I talked about the Pink-0 project to take the gloriously useful Ableton Link protocol and stick it in a Eurorack module. Ableton Link automatically syncs the tempo of any compatible software on the same network. You can instantly and painlessly sync up something running on your iPad to Ableton or Bitwig or Reaktor. Being able to send that clock, just as easily, to your Eurorack could make running the two things side by side an absolute piece of cake. Anyway Seismic Industries have developed the open source Pink-0 project into a workable module. So far they have made enough PCBs to run a “build your own Spink-0” workshop but hope to have some more soon. It’s only available as a PCB and front panel – for something like €30 and then you’ll need to buy all the components. But if you want it built then you are looking at more like €250. I’d like to see a full kit somewhere in between. But it’s simply awesome that it works and hopefully we’ll see more of this sort of technology – anything that makes running computers and modular together easier is a good thing.
Here’s the coolest thing of the week. It’s a Eurorack module consisting of 10 pressure sensitive touch plates that can operate as a keyboard, sequencer, arpeggiator or CV generator and recorder. It’s like an ace performance module right in your rack. You can generate instant melodies or get something started, or use it to trigger or change the key of other things in your rack. They call it Touch Sensing Note Memory. It will record the pressure you apply to the plates and output it as looping CV – so you can generate your own modulation which i really like. Annoyingly it’s only available as a PCB and front panel for €70 and then you have to source the bits yourself. I guess that’s all very time consuming and would make a kit expensive – still in some ways i’d prefer to pay a bit more to ensure i have all the right parts. It’s slightly wider than the Make Noise Pressure Points, but with more pads and smaller than the Rene but can arguably perform the function of both. This is one cool module which i wish i had the time and space for.
Moog Synthesizer IIIp
In response to the $299 Behringer Model D Moog have gone, well big. They decided to dig up an old modular synthesizer and re-release it after 50 years. The Moog Synthesizer IIIp is a three cabinet modular synth where P is for portable – well you can at least pick them up and move them. It contains 37 hand stuffed, hand soldered modules including 10 oscillators, mixing and reverb. It doesn’t come with a keyboard or sequencer – that’s extra.
It does look awesome if you have the room to put it somewhere. They are making only 40 and each one is built exactly to the original spec with all the tuning and noise problems that infers. If you’d like one then it will set you back $35,000 – take that Behringer – your move.
NI Session Guitarist Sunburst
I don’t claim to understand what they heck is going on with Gibson – how this once awesome guitar manufacturer made so many wrong decisions and weird buy outs that it now finds itself about to collapse. But it seemed weirdly appropriate that Native Instruments would take this moment to introduce their Session Guitarist Electric Sunburst virtual instrument based upon a heritage Les Paul. Using their innovative engine thingy it has strumming, picking and lead sounds all built in with alarming realism and authenticity. Listening to the demos I can think of no reason why i’d ever need to pick up a guitar again – well, except for the joy of it. But it’s somehow fitting that Electric Sunburst appears as a homage to the once great Gibson Les Paul guitar.
See, told you i was scraping the barrel a bit to find things to talk about – but you know me i can run on forever.
Now last month I mentioned the Molten Modular Music Making Month and how cool it would be if we all decided to release a track every other day – really work at actually going for it and making music – it would be awesome. Well the response was almost as fabulous as this – – – – I was so overwhelmed that i’m not sure i can stand the pressure of expectation. Nah – it’s just that I can’t quite find the time. It has spurred me into attempting to make more music and in trying to prepare for this month i’ve been focusing on trying to create some music that could form a song – be sung along to – and that’s really interesting. However – i’m officially calling off the March music making thing because I can’t get it together – but i will promise to put up videos of more music making as i go.
One of the reasons why i cant commit to the music making is because i have too many other fabulous things to do. I’m am currently finishing off my review of the Arturia AudioFuse. Next I’m headlong in the Vermona randomRHYTM, following that up with a video on running Pro Tools 2018 on the Surface Pro, and Ableton Live 10, Reason 10, Waveform 9 and there’s a new version of Stagelight coming along. Erica Synths keep threatening to send me a Graphic VCO to review and I’ve still got the Varigate 4+ to do a video on. All of this and i build computers and write for all sorts of people.
I’m also doing a little bit of performing this weekend at Great Yarmouth Minster at an event called Soul Circus. It’s something I’ve been involved in for many years where I provide the music and video to an alternative worship event. This one I’m taking my Eurorack rig along and hope to pull music out of my arse spontaneously on the night. So that’s fun.
So that’ll do – please subscribe and share this video, and follow along on Twitter, Facebook etc. And just a note to say that i like to keep my personal Facebook account to just people i know so please don’t be offended if i ignore your friend request – nothing personal. If you’re interested in pictures of my breakfast or everyday stuff then find me on Instagram where i mix molten stuff with personal stuff.
In the meantime – go and make some tunes.