Welcome to the May edition of Molten Music Monthly. There’s no specials, shows or rants this month, it’s just good old music technology. So what’s been going on?
Well, Reason embraces the world, Deckard has a dream, Windows gets a new version and Surface a new laptop, Modularism tries to curate some awesome music, Little One gives us a virtual fatty, you can get sound tattooed onto your body, Invasors gives us a decent synth for Kontakt and something is going on with MP3.
Let’s get to it.
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Reason VST Support
Well “Reason” and “VST” – two words I never expected to see together. Yes that’s right Propellerhead Reason is going to support VST plug-ins. After all this time, after all these refusals and rebuffs, all the explanations they’ve given us for how supporting VST would compromise their workflow and architecture and yet, here we are. Version 9.5, which is out this week I think (end of May) includes support for VST audio and virtual instrument plug-ins. Obviously it’s a huge thing for Reason, opening it up to masses of plug-ins and new sounds. And we won’t need to use ReWire anymore to run our Reason synthy stuff along side our other plug-ins. What i really like the look of is the implementation – in that they’ve made it Reason-esque – so you drop in this VST device into which you load the plug-in. This then reveals a load of CV patch points for the inputs and outputs – it’s really well done.
Of course it’s ridiculous it’s taken so long. I also wonder about developers who have embraced the Rack Extension format – is this really going to piss them off? Are there special powers in Re that mean it’s worth keeping on as a format or will it now fade? Who knows. All we do know is whoop whoop!
For no other reason than I love BladeRunner and the Vangelis soundtrack and so Deckards Dream really appeals to me. It’s a clone of the Yamaha CS80, used by Vangelis on that iconic music, and it appears to be sounding amazing. Built by Roman Filippov of Sputnik Modular Deckard’s Dream is an 8 voice polysynth with 2 VCO’s per voice. He’s built in waveshaper technology to replicate the instability of the original – although you can turn that off. When Roman was first talking about this project on forums there were a lot of features that came up in discussion that were not in his prototype and it’s great to see those things being incorporated into the finished product – polyphonic aftertouch, MPE support and a 1U rack expander that puts in a bunch of CV patch points and analogue effects. It’s a masterpiece of synthesizer re-invention. You can order one in kit form or fully built now and they should arrive after the summer. Fully built will cost you the best part of $4k, but the kit, which is pretty daunting can be had for $999 – but i think the front panel and case might be extra.
Microsoft had a little launch event where they new Surface laptop. Looks great, if a little bit too much like any other laptop. Super great, a decent Surface laptop – that’s fine, but for me it loses out on the versatility of the Surface Pro and even the Surface Book. Because in a laptop form factor the touch-screen becomes a bit annoying. It’s there, but when i touch it it falls over, or i have to hold it with one hand, or lay on it. It’s ok, i can tap things, but when trying to get creative with touch or with the pen the form factor fights against you. On the other hand the Surface Pro is perfect – you can use it at any angle, it’s rigid on the desk, two hands, no wobble – fabulous. The Surface Book – same problem in laptop mode but when you put the screen down into console mode then you have a fabulous touch surface for creative awesomeness. So yeah, Surface Laptop – great, but a crappy touch experience. Will it work for music? Who knows – please send me one and I’ll test it and let you know.
Windows 10 S
The other factor is the no small thing of a new version of Windows 10 called Window 10 S. The idea of this is simply that you can only run software from the Windows Store. This means it will always work, be always compatible and you’ll never have the trouble of screwing up your system with crappy bits of crappy software you accidentally installed. It’s the walled garden – iPad approach. For many people I think this could be awesome. For music making it’s a complete disaster. There are no decent Windows Store apps for making music. FL Studio Mobile is the best and almost only one out there. But you won’t be able to add more plug-ins, more instruments, you won’t be able to install your audio interface drivers. So, without a shadow of a doubt – at this time and until Microsoft can fill the store with music making apps and have standard windows audio drivers that have awesomely low latency – then Windows 10 S is no good for music production. Thankfully there’s an upgrade path the regular Windows 10 – so if you get a Surface Laptop, and they are cool looking laptops – then upgrade to Windows 10 proper if you want any hope of making music.
This is a quick shout out for Modularism. It’s a project to create box set of the best of the current electronic music created on modular synthesizers. Curated by Phil Dickson-Earle of Law and Auder Records, it’s an exclusive compilation of awesome modular music from some of the best artists in the game. He’s brought together a showcase of the diverse and exciting musical happenings that are going on in this strange, experimental and creative world. Modularism consists of 6 vinyl albums, for intentional listening, individually numbered in an exclusive run of 500 copies. It costs £85 – which seems a lot, but it’s not for 6 pieces of vinyl which will become the benchmark of modular noises. You can also get it on CD or download. But if this music interests you then head over to the Pledge Music website and put some money down.
Little One 3.0
This is a super cool virtual instrument based upon the Moog Little Phatty. I just think it’s great. The sound quality is amazing – it has this solid analogue sound going on that just feels right somehow. Of course we’re forever hearing about the authenticity of software synths and analogue modelling or how something has had its soul sampled. I find these things impossible to judge. What i like about the Little One is the idea that they’ve modelled the imperfections of the hardware, so, they claim, the same note will never sound exactly the same. Is that bullshit? Oh i don’t know – sounds great to me. In addition to the Little Phatty features they’ve also add 4 voice polyphony, a sequencer and trance gate and a bunch of effects. What they kept however was the really annoying interface where there’s a single knob controlling lots of things that you select via a button. I can see this being a good way of keeping costs down in hardware but with software – geez – why not have a knob for everything? Authenticity to far in my view. Little One 3.0 is €69 from Xhum Audio.
Invasors for Kontakt
I’m getting a bit bored of the Kontakt interface and so it’s really good to see something trying to break out from the norm. Divergent Audio Group bring us Invasors – it’s an analogue style synth thing. What I can’t quite work out is whether this is a cleverly manipulated sampled instrument or if they are doing something very very clever in the Kontakt scripting to create actual synthesis. The GUI has a really nice hardware feel to it and in some ways they are trying to fool you into thinking this isn’t samples. They gone with a hardware synth style LCD screen and simple knob controls. Whatever is selected on-screen gets controlled by the four knobs at the bottom. They say it has 2 oscillators and 128 waveforms which “can be combined in a variety of exciting new ways” although they don’t really say what that means.
It sounds amazing, the hardware vibe is genuinely cool, but it’s also restrictive, it makes things both easy and unnecessarily complicated. You’ve only got 4 controls, the rest of it is menu diving which, let’s be honest, is the least exciting thing about hardware synths. But, it seems to work in Invasors favour. I love that they’ve subverted the usual Kontakt interface and perhaps it’s a shame it’s not just its own thing. Anyway – cool synth – 100 quid.
Now lastly there’s been a lot of chatter about MP3. Fraunhofer released a statement saying that some of their MP3 patents had expired and they were going to stop messing around with MP3 and move on to AAC and Mpeg, the children and grandchildren of MP3. Well, the internet of music tech news streams seemed to decide that MP3 was dead. Death warrants had been signed, MP3 was all over and that was the end of that. This boggled my mind because surely if MP3 was no longer being licensed then wouldn’t it just become free and open source and you wouldn’t have to pay for encoding anymore? Unlike everyone else in the world I fired off an email to Fraunhofer asking for clarification and their response was basically – what? Who said anything about MP3 being dead? They told me that MP3 is already an ISO open format, that it’s alive and well and will continue into eternity. Intellectual property may still exist around the implementation of the codecs and MP3 software doesn’t suddenly become free or anything. So all the statement was meant to convey was that there’s better more modern codecs that have evolved from MP3 and the Fraunhofer Institute is going to be focusing on them from now on. So nobody panic – your collection of 10,000 MP3s that you shared when Napster was a thing are still going to keep on working.
That’s it for now. Coming up we have a whole bunch of new products from Roland being released over the next few weeks. And I’ll get a chance to try to Reason 9.5 when it’s released shortly. I am hopefully going to be filming my Bitwig 2 review right after I’ve finished this. And I have a Molten Modular update coming along as well which I thought deserved it’s own video.
Until next time I’ll leave you with the Skin Motion Soundwave Tattoos – go and make some tunes.