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Get a free pack that recreates Prince’s signature drum sounds

With so much to talk about in recent days about Prince’s legacy, it’s possible to overlook just what a deep impact he had on production and sound design. Working with Roger Linn’s classic boxes, the LinnDrum and LM-1, the artist left an indelible mark on the sound of pop. And you don’t have to slavishly copy those contributions: by learning how they’re put together, you can understand what went into them and follow your own sound.

Just that sort of education in sound design – something for fans and students – is embodied in a free download for Ableton Live users this week. Francis Preve is both a sound designer by trade and a teacher, so teaching is part of his stated goal for releasing these. And at a point when everyone is doing cover songs, here’s another way to respond – by honoring the impact Prince has had on sound.

Fran writes:

From “1999” to “Sign ‘O’ The Times”, Prince incorporated these drum machines, with specific sounds – like the Rimshot and Clap – wildly detuned to create giant clacks and booms. From there, he added compression and when feeling extra freaky, a flanger pedal, on the drum machine’s output. The resulting grooves became a hallmark of the “Minneapolis Sound”, utilized by The Time and Apollonia 6, as well as hits like “Oh Sheila” by Ready For The World. Prince’s approach to drum machines was just as unique as Hendrix’s revolutionary guitar work – and just as versatile an ingredient in other artists’ work.

PurpleDrums is available on Symplesound, the sound boutique I profiled recently. In this pack, you get a custom Drum Rack for Ableton Live with ten samples from the LM-1 and LinnDrum, tailored to Prince’s distinctive “Minneapolis Sound” via integrated effects and macros. There’s also an interactive menu that walks through Prince’s drum production techniques.

I think it’s a great idea; I’ve seen many calls on social media not just to mourn lost heroes, but to turn that inspiration into something creative. For anyone working in production – and judging by my friends, many, many of you are in production partly because of Prince – this is a great way to do that.

And the sounds already sound lovely:

Francis hasn’t just started honoring Prince this way after the artist’s death; he says he’s done it in every sound bank he can. And he also notes that he’ll be “deconstructing and explaining the “Let’s Go Crazy” Oberheim sound in the July issue of Keyboard Magazine.” Finally, if you’re a user of the Serum plug-in, you’ll find a reinterpretation of that very sound called, fittingly, “Let’s Get Nutz.”

Get the free pack here (you’ll need Live 9.5 or later):

http://www.symplesound.com/shop/purpledrums

And Fran explains his motivations in a blog post:

A Tribute: PurpleDrums [symplesound]

LM-1 photo: Linn Electronics, 1980. Scanned and Photoshopped by Eric Mattei with permission from Bruce Forat; CC-BY-SA.

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Elektron just added 12 new machines to the Analog Rytm

Hey, software drum machines aren’t the only ones who get new synthesized drums – now hardware owners can, too.

If you had to explain the Elektron Analog Rytm drum machine to someone quickly, the answer was already pretty easy – it’s about the sound. Well, in an OS update quietly dubbed “1.30,” Elektron just added a whole lot of new sonic possibilities, in the form of twelve new machines and synthesis models.

Want bass drums? There are three of them.

Snare? Check.

New metallic and ride and hat sounds? Sure.

Impulse. Noise.

Not only are there new models, but loads of parameters inside each of them, so any one of those models gives you a lot to play with. You also aren’t restricted to using these as drums, per se – with all those options in there, you can also treat these as synth voices and make basslines or anything else you can think of. (The Elektron folks show off some nice options with the bass drum, for instance.)

Add in FM-style sounds in Impulse, and you can make some beautiful, ringing timbres.

Check out the video for some great demos and tasty noises:

I just love this machine; it’s been great to watch it come into its own.

For anyone finding dance music dull, I think a lot of the problem is lax creativity with sound design. Now, new toys aren’t necessarily going to make a producer who’s, uh, a boring person suddenly turn interesting, any more than a fashion makeover will transform you into a better conversationalist. But put these tools in the hands of anyone passionate about sound, and I think they’ll have a great, great time – with some results to show for it.

Listening to the Analog Four, I hear something that does sound really distinctive and modern – very Elektron. (Very Swedish, even.)

Check out this new 1.30 sound pack for more:
https://www.elektron.se/accessories/new-blood/

And there is some connection between the culture of the machine and the culture of the music made with it. If we only talk about 909 sounds, for instance, we are going to get a lot of repetition – that’s nothing against tradition, but tradition can be too narrow.

But I’m confident that the pendulum is about to swing back. Whether you choose some weird plug-ins or a Reaktor or SuperCollider patch or a modular or something like the Analog Rytm or just abusing some hardware, I think it’s time we celebrate unusual noises in both production and listening.

Sorry, off my soapbox now. Let us know what noises you make with 1.30, Elektron owners – we’d love to hear them.

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Watch this free monster patch for Elektron machines, in action

This one’s too good to wait. Gustavo Bravetti, the Uruguay-born producer and DJ, is already something of a maximalist. He’s the sort of person who can rock alternative controllers live on a mainstage in front of massive festival crowds – the powerful counter-example to the notion that such high-pressure gigs have to be press-play. And now, he’s been hard at work on a powerful tool for expanding the possibilities of performance on Elektron’s hardware, all using Push for control. I could ramble on, but the best way to follow this is to watch the extensive tutorial video he’s just posted:

It’s called, simply, “Performer” – Performance Master Snapshot Controller. And it works with the “dark trinity” of Elektron gear – that’s Analog Rytm, Analog Four, and Octatrack – along with Ableton Push and Max/MSP.

The computer is acting basically as a prototyping tool, as glue between the Push controller and the Elektron gear (indeed, Gustavo is already thinking about how to make a version of this that doesn’t require a full laptop and OS). But the point is that Push’s versatile layout becomes command center for snapshot recall.

It’ll be free when it drops this weekend (Gustavo tells CDM the work is done).

And wow, does it do a lot. You can control mute states for tracks, as well as level. You can use the crossfader as a modulator, or cross-fade tracks, or cross-fade performance macros, or add crossfader actions. As the name implies, you can take snapshots. You can activate, deactivate, and store parameters.

As Gustavo tells us, it’s “a non-linear sequencer” for snapshots. You can select snapshots and choose which parameters are recalled – so you could pre-program whole songs, he says, or just use the programming as a guide for creating builds, cuts, and so on. (And yes, live, full-on mute is a useful thing.)

That’s impressive enough, but it’s the way the pieces are put together that makes this so uniquely musical. There’s a quantized engine, allowing you to automatically launch snapshots in time, defined by rules and triggers and controlled by crossfader gestures.

A 4×4 customizable pad area let you program in phrases and arpeggios, use custom delays, and more. “The possibilities are endless,” says Gustavo. “You can play arpeggios in sync and live on the Elektron machines – something you can’t do by default.” More videos with those features are coming.

And the user interface is beautiful, as well – this thing almost looks like a dedicated piece of software. For now, there are two tools, a “satellite” tool for routing and the larger interface. (Gustavo says he plans to merge the two.)

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What is this like in action? Here’s Gustavo playing, from last summer (it’s continued to evolve since then). He keeps very, very busy – watch those hands. (This to me is fascinating – not saying that a more active performance is necessarily better, but it’s fascinating to observe the range of levels of control different artists use to define a live set. To me, it’s one of the things making live sets interesting…)

We’ll be watching for this download. Follow us on Facebook and switch on notifications (hover over the Like button for menu options) for the latest updates on our stories.

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Play with Steve Reich’s techniques in a free iPhone app

Steve Reich’s musical etudes are already a kind of self-contained lesson in rhythm. Inspired by drumming traditions, Reich distills in his music essential principles of rhythmic construction, introducing Western Classical musicians to cyclic forms. That makes them a natural for visual scoring – doubly so something interactive, which is what an iPhone can provide. And so one percussion ensemble has made an app that both reveals Reich’s techniques and opens up a toy you can use to make your own musical experiments. Plus – it’s free.

The app is called “Third Coast Percussion: the Music of Steve Reich” – that’s a mouthful. And the app is packed with content.

Phasing starts with the looping idea of It’s Gonna Rain.
Additive lets you assemble interlocking polyrhythms, working with Music for Pieces of Wood.
Canons works with overlaid melodies, from Sextet.

And you can add your own audio samples – loops for Phasing, or substituting your own samples for Canons and Additive. You also get control of tempo, phase, and even the rhythms and melodies – so this is a compositional app as well as an interactive learning tool.

The app is the work of Third Coast Percussion Ensemble of Chicago and developer Joseph Genden. Naturally, that means it also encourages you to listen to excerpts of their album and a buy a copy (as well you should – it’s terrific).

Now iOS-only; they say an Android version is in the works.

Check out their John Cage app, and an app devoted to the history of bells.

This warms my heart even as it chills my bones: the ensemble plays Steve Reich around Chicago, which some special meaning to me as it’s the city I first got to hear the Reich Ensemble live as a kid.

Actually, even despite the electronic bent of this site, I think acoustic instruments are a great way to complement education of the physics of sound. As part of a collaboration with the engineering program at Notre Dame, the ensemble has put together a program on that very topic – they even engineered custom percussion instruments just for the project.

Also I expect inspiring to budding sound designers, don’t miss the great composer August Read Thomas talking about her collaboration and what it means to compose for this set of instruments – that’s Create Metallic Music.

More:

Third Coast Percussion: the Music of Steve Reich [App Store]

http://www.thirdcoastpercussion.com/

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Hands-on guide to customizing the Novation Circuit

It’s not so much how complex or simple an instrument is – it’s how much you can make it feel your own. We covered a series of updates last week to Novation’s Circuit hardware. This week, as part of a collaboration with Novation and their product specialists, we’ve put together an exclusive hands-on guide to how to customize it for your own use.

First, here’s a video overview of how loading your own samples works, and why it’s important:

What you can customize

The “Novation Components” update covers a number of areas. You can…

  • Load your own sound samples (60 seconds worth).
  • Record external MIDI control and notes. (As mentioned last week, this is also a way of transferring MIDI clips from your computer to the Circuit – sync the two, then record the pattern.)
  • Transform the onboard synths with a special editor and MIDI control. (That unlocks a lot of hidden parameters and mappings, then lets you assign them to the onboard controls.)

In short, if you looked at Circuit and said, okay, this is just a bunch of stock sounds with some knobs and a step sequencer – not any more, it isn’t.

What you’ll need

To take advantage of the new stuff, you’ll need some different updates and downloads. It might not be immediately obvious, so let’s cover it one step at a time, in order.

1. Get the Google Chrome or Opera Web browser. You’ll need these browsers because they have full support for browser MIDI. (Don’t laugh at Opera; I actually just switched to it – it’s now based on the Chrome engine.) You can then grab the rest of the files/links at:

https://components.novationmusic.com/

2. If you’re on Windows, install an updated driver.

screenshot_351

3. Install the updated firmware. Circuit 1.2 firmware (as of this writing) adds all the features you need. Connect your Circuit to your computer, run the updater, and you’re ready to go.

4. Install the editor. Isotonik have built an editor for the Circuit’s synths. You can download two flavors – one standalone, and one for Ableton Max for Live. You’ll register on Isotonik’s site, and then each is a free download. Note that the Max for Live version requires Ableton Live 9.2 and Max for Live 7.0 or later. The Isotonik page is here (scroll down):

http://isotonikstudios.com/novation-x-isotonik/novation-circuit-editor

Now you’re ready to get started.

Novation has consolidated most of what you need at components.novationmusic.com. Once you open that site in a supported browser (recent versions of Chrome, Opera), it'll first check to see if you've got a Circuit connected via USB.

Novation has consolidated most of what you need at components.novationmusic.com. Once you open that site in a supported browser (recent versions of Chrome, Opera), it’ll first check to see if you’ve got a Circuit connected via USB.

Next, you're prompted to switch your Circuit to "bootloader" mode.

Next, you’re prompted to switch your Circuit to “bootloader” mode.

Finally, you'll see a pattern of green lights indicating you're in bootloader mode and ready to communicate with the browser tools. (Don't worry if your pattern of green lights doesn't match exactly.)

Finally, you’ll see a pattern of green lights indicating you’re in bootloader mode and ready to communicate with the browser tools. (Don’t worry if your pattern of green lights doesn’t match exactly.)

Load your own samples

As seen in the video, one of the big features in the new firmware is the ability to load custom samples. So, for instance, I’m a huge fan of Goldbaby’s grimy, retro drum samples. Any pack of drum sounds can now replace the four drum parts on the Circuit.

You can also load melodic samples (or anything else). Here, you’ll want to chop up those samples in advance. In Logic Pro X, I like to first add transient markers to audio (automatically). Once you’ve done that, and adjusted transients to your liking, you can right-click the audio, and choose Slice at Transient Markers. That creates a bunch of regions which (as of Logic Pro X 10.2.1) you can now batch export – so it’s perfect for this job. (Choose File > Export > [x] Regions as Audio Files.)

In Ableton Live, there’s a bit of extra work to get the actual samples out. If you have a Drum Rack, you can go to each slot, open the Simpler or Sampler instance, right-click, and choose “crop” on the audio file. Then you’ll find the files inside the /Samples/Processed/ folder.

Some other DAWs make this easier, and you can also use tools like the free Audacity editor, Propellerheads’ ReCycle, or a nice dedicated tool like Oscillicious BeatCleaver.

Once you’ve got your files, you’ll want to understand how Circuit organizes them.

Because of the available memory on the Circuit, you can load up to 60 seconds total playing time of 16-bit, 48kHz audio, as uncompressed WAV files. (MP3 files work, too, but not other formats; I recommend WAV.) There are 64 sample slots in total. So, for instance, you could take a 60-second melodic file, and divide it into up to 64 slices.

Circuit access these samples via Drum 1, Drum 2, Drum 3, and Drum 4.

To load the files, open Circuit Components in your Opera or Chrome browser. The first time you load a compatible browser, you’ll see a prompt asking for your permission to use Web MIDI; approve it so your browser can access your hardware.

Next, choose Sample Import. You’ll be prompted to enter bootloader mode if you haven’t already. Hold down Scale, Note, and Velocity with the unit powered off, then hold the power button to power it on. You’ll see a pattern of green lights.

Then, choose New Sample Set.

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The first time you create a Sample Set, you’ll do so manually. You drag one file at a time to one pad slot at a time. (Hopefully we see a future update that allows multiple file drag-and-drop – browsers support that possibility.)

Don’t panic about the “bootloader mode.” You can always go back to the defaults by choosing “Load Default Samples,” so you won’t do any harm!

Once you’ve loaded all your samples, choose Send to Circuit to load them onto the hardware. After they’re loaded, you can also try them out by hitting the Play button.

You can only have one sample set loaded on your Circuit at a time. So, once you have a sample set you like, choose Download as File. Now you can upload different sample sets as .syx files, without any more drag-and-drop.

You can also use the Librarian in Circuit Components to save everything in the cloud.

circuitvector

Play with sample sets

There are some limitations to how you can use your custom samples. Since they’re loaded to Drum 1-4, you have just four simultaneous sample parts. You can swap any one of those parts between samples, via one of two methods:

1. Switch samples via the pads. Hold down Shift and tap the Drum part you want. Now, you can change samples on-the-fly by tapping one of the 32 pads. Drum 1 and Drum 2 default to slots 1-32 first, and Drum 3 and Drum 4 default to 33-64; to get to the other 32, use the octave up/down buttons.

2. Switch samples via MIDI. You can’t automate sample changes on the Circuit itself, but you can via MIDI. Control Change messages sent on channel 10 will switch samples: CC 8 (Drum 1), 18 (Drum 2), 44 (Drum 3), and 50 (Drum 4). That means you can have some fun creating clips in, say, Ableton Live, while you play, or map to a controller and switch samples live. (Check out the Peavey faderbox in our artist video, for instance.)

You can also control parameters of the samples, just as with the drum parts, via Circuit’s encoders.

Unauthorized tip: I’m fairly certain Novation don’t want me to say this, but it’s a bit cool. I discovered by accident – as you probably will – that an empty sample slot makes a little “click.” That click you can even re-pitch and distort and sequence. So, as a big fan of music like the stuff on raster-noton, I’ve actually taken to making some sequences with this. Have fun with it before they decide to “fix” it.

Play chords (not just melodies)

Synth parts can be polyphonic as well as monophonic. That means you can enter chords into the sequencer. There are a few tips for making some unique use of this feature.

First, enter your chord progression. Hold down the step you want on the bottom half of the pads, then either play a chord on an external MIDI controller, or on the keyboard on the top half of the pads. Now that chord is stored in that step. (You can add up to six notes per step, for six-note chords.)

Normally, these chords will play along with the step sequencer. To stop that from happening, mute the Synth part. Press Mixer to switch to Mixer mode, and then mute the associated part by tapping the pad underneath Synth 1 or Synth 2. “Mute” is something of a misnomer – you’ll still hear the part, but it won’t play in the sequencer, meaning you can trigger chords manually.

Now, with the sequencer playing or not, you can tap the step to trigger the associated chord.

Here’s the fun bit: with the Circuit as a controller, you can use those chords to trigger another synth. So, for example, Olly at Novation has built a whole Ableton Live set in which he uses the Circuit to trigger custom synths and arpeggiators using these chords.

Stay in the flow while playing

Two new features in the firmware update can be a big boon to keeping your flow going as you play – that’s really essential if you use hardware live, as I do.

First, you can now write automation for just the part of the sequence you want, rather than overwriting the whole sequence. (Boy oh boy do I wish I could do this with some of my other gear.)

Hold down record as you turn one of the encoders, and “momentary record” writes automation data only as the record button is depressed.

You can also add and remove automation to just a particular step, when the sequencer isn’t running. To add automation to a step, stop, make sure recording is armed (with the record button), press red to select it for editing (it’s highlighted red), then move the encoder.

To remove from the same step, also with the sequencer stopped and record is armed, tap the step you want, hold down clear, and then twist the knob you want to clear just that automation.

You can also review these techniques with the 1.2 firmware video from Novation:

Tinker with synths

So, you can transform Drum 1-4 by changing samples. But you can also get much deeper with Synth 1 and Synth 2 – if you don’t like the stock, preset sounds, you really can make Circuit sound like just about anything you want. A lot of the character of the instrument isn’t so much the engine as those preset sounds; you can push it in very different directions. There are three ways you might about this.

Modulation routing along can do some crazy things to your instrument patches. And it's far deeper than you might suspect looking at the Circuit front panel.

Modulation routing along can do some crazy things to your instrument patches. And it’s far deeper than you might suspect looking at the Circuit front panel.

The software editor. Isotonik’s Circuit editor, built in Max, is kind of amazing. You’ll see that hidden behind the Circuit’s eight encoders is an entire synth engine waiting to be customized. One good way to start is by re-assigning the Macro knobs so you can control what you like with those encoders. If you want to dive down the rabbit hole, try the modulation section in the bottom right-hand side. We could practically do a feature just on this editor, but that’ll get you going.

lcxl_circuit

External MIDI control – including the LaunchControl XL. The editor works because all these parameters are accessible via MIDI. But then the editor isn’t the only way to get at them. You can also use an external MIDI controller, as My Panda Shall Fly did with his Peavey. If you don’t feel like manually assigning those, Novation has built a set of layouts for its LaunchControl XL control surface. The Mixer alone is huge, plus there are pages for controlling each synth and drum part. And because the LaunchControl XL works in standalone mode, you can even do this without a computer. (Since the LaunchControl XL lacks MIDI DIN ports, you’ll need a hardware USB MIDI host like the Kenton USB host.)

Check out the layouts here:

Using Launch Control XL With Circuit

TouchOSC-iPad

iOS and TouchOSC. If you have an iPad, you can send MIDI from that. Again, Novation has built one solution for you out of the box, in the form of an iPad-only (sorry, no iPhone) layout for TouchOSC. Because it’s a TouchOSC layout, though, you can open it with the TouchOSC editor and modify it – as some CDM readers have already done. For instance, you might want to make an X/Y pad for controlling parameters with sweeping gestures of your finger.

Get it here: What is the TouchOSC Circuit template? [also the Jeopardy answer to the clue: “This download lets you control the Circuit with your iPad,” in “Novation downloads for $200”]

Capture ideas with MIDI

If the onboard step sequencer seems limiting on the Circuit, you can also record external MIDI.

For example, let’s say you’ve got a MIDI clip you like in Ableton Live (or any other program that sends MIDI from clips).

1. Sync. Make sure your computer and Circuit are synced via MIDI clock.
2. Set length. Set the length of the clip to the length of the Circuit step sequence. That pattern/clip can be anywhere from one to eight bars in length. Choose Patterns on Circuit, and then set the length (for instance, for a full eight-bar length, press pads for pattern 1 and 8 at the same time.)
3. Capture. Then, simply hit record on the Circuit whilst your MIDI clip is playing. Now the MIDI sequence on your computer is on your Circuit.

You can also use an external MIDI input to play in a sequence from any other controller.

More

Got more tips? Other things you want to know? Let us know.

For more information, see the other parts of this series:

Artists share Novation Circuit tips, with Shawn Rudiman and My Panda Shall Fly

Make Novation Circuit your own, with updates, browser tools

And you can see these techniques in action in our artist video:

Vector art of the Novation Circuit provided by the wonderful Vector Fun with Synths.

Disclosure: This guide was produced with support from and collaboration with Novation.

The post Hands-on guide to customizing the Novation Circuit appeared first on cdm createdigitalmusic.

Slow Electricity: The Return of DC Power?

Early power stationIn today’s solar photovoltaic systems, direct current power coming from solar panels is converted to alternating current power, making it compatible with a building’s electrical distribution.

Because many modern devices operate internally on direct current (DC), alternating current (AC) electricity is then converted back to DC electricity by the adapter of each device.

This double energy conversion, which generates up to 30% of energy losses, can be eliminated if the building’s electrical distribution is converted to DC. Directly coupling DC power sources with DC loads can result in a significantly cheaper and more sustainable solar system. However, some important conditions need to be met in order to achieve this goal.

Picture: Brighton Electric Light Station, 1887. Stationary steam engines drive DC generators by means of leather belts. Source.



Electricity can be produced and distributed using alternating current or direct current. In the case of AC electricity, the current changes direction periodically, while the voltage reverses along with the current. In the case of DC electricity, the current flows in one direction and voltage remains constant. When electrical power transmission was introduced in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, AC and DC were competing to become the standard power distribution system — a period in history known as the “war of currents”.

AC won, mainly because of its higher efficiency when transported over long distances. Electric power (expressed in watt) equals current (expressed in ampère) multiplied by voltage (expressed in volt). Consequently, a given amount of power can be produced by a low voltage with a higher current or by a high voltage with a lower current. However, power loss due to resistance is proportional to the square of the current. Therefore, high voltages are the key to energy efficient power transmission over longer distances. [1]

The invention of the AC transformer in the late 1800s made it possible to easily step up the voltage in order to carry power over long distances, and then step it back down again for local use. DC electricity, on the other hand, couldn’t be converted efficiently to high voltages until the 1960s. Consequently, it was impossible to transmit power effectively over long distances (> 1-2 km).

Brush_central_power_station_dynamos_New_York_1881Illustration: Brush Electric Company’s central power plant dynamos powered arc lamps for public lighting in New York. Beginning operation in December 1880 at 133 West Twenty-Fifth Street, it powered a 2-mile (3.2 km) long circuit. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

A DC power network implied the installation of relatively small power plants in every neighbourhood. This was not ideal because the efficiency of the steam engines that powered the dynamos depended on their size — the larger a steam engine, the more efficient it becomes. Furthermore, steam engines were noisy and produced air pollution, while the low transport efficiency of DC power excluded the use of more distant, clean hydro power sources.

More than a hundred years later, AC still constitutes the basis of our power infrastructure. Although high-voltage DC has been gaining ground for long-distance transportation, all electrical distribution in buildings is based on alternating current, either at 110V or 220V. Low voltage DC systems have survived in cars, trucks, motorhomes, caravans and boats, as well as in telecommunication offices, remote scientific stations, and emergency shelters. In most of these examples, devices are powered by batteries that operate on 12V, 24V or 48V DC.

Renewed Interest in DC Power

Recently, two converging factors have renewed interest in DC power distribution. First, we now have better alternatives for decentralized power generation, the most significant of these being solar PV panels. They don’t produce pollution and their efficiency is independent of their size. Because solar panels can be located right where energy demand is, long distance power transmission isn’t a requirement. Furthermore, solar panels “naturally” produce DC power, and so do chemical batteries, which are the most practical storage technology for PV systems.

Solar PV panels naturally produce DC power, and a growing share of our electric appliances operate internally on direct current

Secondly, a growing share of our electrical appliances operate internally on DC power. This is true for computers and all other electronic gadgets, as well as for solid state lighting (LEDs), flat screen televisions, stereo equipment, microwave ovens, and an increasing amount of devices operated on DC motors with variable speed operation (fans, pumps, compressors, and traction systems). Within the next 20 years, we could see as much as 50% of the total loads in households being made up of DC consumption. [2]

Hippodrome power plantDC Power plant of the Hippodrome in Paris. A steam engine runs multiple dynamos that power arc lamps. Source unknown.

In a building that generates solar PV power but distributes it indoors over an AC electrical system, a double energy conversion is required. First, the DC power from the solar panel is converted to AC power using an inverter. Then, AC power is converted back to DC power by the adapters of DC-internal appliances like computers, LEDs and microwaves. These energy conversions imply power losses, which could be avoided if a solar powered building would be equipped with DC distribution. In other words, a DC electrical system could make a solar PV system more energy efficient.

More Solar Power for Less Money

Because the operational energy use and costs of a solar PV system are nil, a higher energy efficiency translates into lower capital costs, as fewer solar panels are needed to generate a given amount of electricity. Furthermore, there is no need to install an inverter, which is a costly device that has to be replaced at least once during the life of a solar PV system. Lower capital costs also imply lower embodied energy: if fewer solar panels and no inverter are required, it takes less energy to produce the solar PV installation, which is crucial to improve the sustainability of the technology.

Fewer solar panels are needed to generate a given amount of electricity

A similar advantage would apply to electrical devices. In a building with DC power distribution, DC-internal electric devices can do away with all the components that are necessary for AC to DC conversion. This would make them simpler, cheaper, more reliable, and less energy-intensive to produce. The AC/DC adapters (which can be housed in an external power supply or in the device itself) are often the life-limiting component of DC-internal devices, and they are quite substantial in size. [2]

Components for AC DC conversionIllustration: Power driver for a 35W LED lamp. [3] All parts that are necessary for AC to DC conversion are marked.

For example, for an LED light, approximately 40% of the printed circuit board is occupied by components  necessary for AC to DC conversion. [3] AC/DC adapters have more disadvantages. As a result of a dubious commercial strategy, they are usually specific to a device, resulting in a waste of resources, money, and space. Furthermore, an adapter continues to use energy when the device is not operating, and even when the device is not connected to it.

DC power distribution would make devices simpler, cheaper, more reliable, and less energy-intensive to produce

Last but not least, low-voltage DC grids (up to 24V) are considered safe from shock or fire hazard , which allows electricians to install relatively simple wiring, without grounding or metal junction boxes, and without protection against direct contact. [4, 5, 6] This further increases cost savings, and it allows you to install a solar system all by yourself. We demonstrate such a DIY system in the next article, where we also explain how to obtain DC appliances or convert AC devices to DC.

How Much Energy Can Be Saved?

It’s important to note, however, that the energy efficiency advantage of a DC grid is not a given. Energy savings can be significant, but they can also be very small or even turn negative. Whether or not DC is a good choice, depends mainly on five factors: the specific conversion losses in the AC/DC-adapters of all devices, the timing of the “load” (the energy use), the availability of electric storage, the length of the distribution cables, and the power use of the electrical appliances.

Eliminating the inverter results in quite predictable energy savings. It concerns only one device with a rather fixed efficiency (+90% — although efficiency can plummet to about 50% at low load). However, the same cannot be said of AC/DC-adapters. Not only are there as many adapters as there are DC-internal devices, but their conversion efficiencies also vary wildly, from less than 50% for low power devices to more than 90% for high power devices. [6, 7, 8]

AC power adaptersConsequently, the total energy loss of AC/DC-adapters can be very different depending on what kind of appliances are used in a building — and how they are used. Just like inverters, adapters waste relatively more energy when little power is used, for instance in standby or low power modes. [8]

The conversion losses in adapters are highest for DVDs/VCRs (31%), home audio (21%), personal computers and related equipment (20%), rechargeable electronics (20%), lighting (18%) and televisions (15%). The electricity losses are lower (10-13%) for more mundane appliances like ceiling fans, coffee makers, dishwashers, electric toasters, space heaters, microwave ovens, refrigerators, and so on. [8].

Lighting and computers (which have high AC/DC-losses) usually make up a great share of total electricity use in offices, shops and institutional buildings. Households have more diverse appliances, including devices with lower AC/DC-losses. Consequently, a DC system brings higher energy savings in offices than in residential buildings.

The largest advantage is in data centers, where computers are the main load. Some data centers have already switched to DC systems, even if they’re not powered by solar energy. Because a large adapter is more efficient than a multitude of small adapters, converting AC to DC at a local level (using a bulk rectifier) rather than at the individual servers, can bring energy savings between 5 and 30%. [6, 9] [10, 11]

The Importance of Energy Storage

If we assume an energy loss of 10% in the inverter and an average loss of 15% for all the AC/DC adapters, we would expect energy savings of about 25% when switching to DC distribution in a solar PV powered building. However, such a significant saving isn’t guaranteed. To start with, most solar powered buildings are grid-connected. They don’t store solar power in on-site batteries, but rely on the grid to deal with surpluses and shortages.

In a net-metered solar powered building, only loads coincident with solar PV output can benefit from a DC grid

This means that excess solar power needs to be converted from DC to AC in order to send it to the electric grid, while power taken from the grid needs to be converted from AC to DC in order to be compatible with the electrical distribution system of the building. Consequently, in a net-metered solar PV powered building, only loads coincident with solar PV output can benefit from a DC grid.

DC power distributionEarly DC power stations had a dynamo for every light bulb. Source unknown.

Once again, this means that the efficiency advantages of a DC system are usually larger in commercial buildings, where most electricity use coincides with the DC output from the solar system. In residential buildings, on the other hand, energy use often peaks in mornings and evenings, when little or no solar power is available.

Consequently, there is only a small advantage to obtain from a DC system in a net-metered residential building, as most electricity will be converted to or from AC anyway. A recent study calculated that a DC system could improve the energy efficiency of a solar-powered, net-metered American home on average by only 5% — the figure is an average for 14 houses across the USA. [12] [13]

Off-Grid Solar Systems

To realize the full potential of a DC grid, especially when it concerns a residential building, we need to store solar energy in on-site batteries. In this way, the system can store and use power in DC form. Energy storage can happen in an off-grid system, which is fully independent of the grid, but adding some battery storage to a net-metered building also improves the advantage of a DC system. However, energy storage adds another type of energy loss: the charging and discharging losses of the batteries. The round-trip efficiency for lead-acid batteries is 70-80%, while for lithium-ion it’s about 90%.

Unfortunately, energy storage adds another type of energy loss — the charging and discharging losses of the batteries — and negates the cost advantages of a DC system

Exactly how much energy can be saved with on-site battery storage again depends on the timing of the load. Electricity used during the day — when the batteries are full — doesn’t involve any battery charging and discharging losses. In that case, the energy savings of a DC system can be 25% (10% for eliminating the inverter and 15% for eliminating the adapters).

However, electricity used after sunset lowers the energy savings to 15% for lithium-ion batteries and between -5% and +5% for lead-acid batteries. In reality, electricity will probably be used both before and after sunset, so that efficiency improvements will be somewhere between those extremes (-5% to 25% for lead-acid, and 15-25% for lithium-ion).

Kensington court stationKensington Court Station: steam engine, dynamo and batteries. Source: Central-Station Electric Lighting, Killingworth Hedges, 1888.

On the other hand, battery storage brings an additional advantage: there are less or — in a totally independent system — no additional energy losses for the long-distance transmission and distribution of AC electricity. These losses vary a lot depending on the location. For example, average transmission losses are only 4% in Germany and the Netherlands, but 6% in the US and China, and between 15 and 20% in Turkey and India.  [14] [15]

If we add another 7% of energy savings due to avoided transmission losses, an off-grid DC system can bring energy savings between 2% and 32% for lead-acid batteries, and between 22% and 32% for lithium-ion batteries, depending on the timing of the load.

In an off-grid DC system, electricity use can be met with a solar system that’s one-fifth to one-third smaller, depending on the type of batteries used

Assuming 50% energy use during the day and 50% energy use during the night, we arrive at a gain of 17% for an off-grid system using lead-acid batteries, and 27% for lithium-ion storage. This means that electricity use can be met with a solar system that is one-fifth to one-third smaller, respectively. Total cost savings will remain a bit larger, because we still don’t need an inverter, and installation costs are lower or non-existent.

Unfortunately, introducing on-site electricity storage raises capital costs again, because we need to invest in batteries. This will negate the cost advantage we obtained through in choosing a DC system. The same goes for the energy invested in the production process: an off-grid DC system requires less energy for the manufacturing of solar panels, but it instigates at least as much energy use for the manufacturing of batteries.

However, we should compare apples to apples: a DC off-grid solar system is cheaper and more energy efficient than a AC off-grid system, and that’s what counts. The life cycle analyses of net-metered solar systems do not represent reality, because they ignore an essential component of solar energy systems.

Cable losses

There’s one more important thing to consider, though. As we have seen, power loss due to resistance is proportional to the square of the current. Consequently, low-voltage DC grids have relatively high cable losses within the building. There are two ways in which cable losses can make a choice for a DC system counterproductive. The first is the use of high power devices, and the second is the use of very long cables.

Voltage regulation in early power plantVoltage regulation in early power plant. Source unknown.

The energy loss in the cables equals the square of the current (in ampère), multiplied by the resistance (in ohm). The resistance is determined by the length, the diameter, and the conducting material of the cables. A copper wire with a cross section of 10 mm2, distributing 100 watts of power at 12 V (8.33 A) over a distance of 10 metres yields an acceptable energy loss of 3%. However, with a cable length of 50 metres, energy loss becomes 16%, and at a length of 100 metres, the energy loss adds up to 32% — enough to negate the efficiency advantages of a DC grid even in the most optimistic scenario.

The relatively high energy losses in the cables limit the use of high power appliances

The relatively high cable losses also limit the use of high power appliances. If you want to run a 1,000 watt microwave on a 12V DC grid, the energy losses add up to 16% with a cable length of only 1 metre, and jump to 47% with a cable length of 3 metres.

Obviously, a low-voltage DC grid is not suited to power devices such as washing machines, dish washers, vacuum cleaners, electric cookers, electric ovens, or warm water boilers. Note that power use and not energy use is important in this regard. Energy use equals power use multiplied by time. A refrigerator uses much more energy than a microwave, because it’s on 24 hours per day, but its power use can be small enough to be operated on a DC grid.

Cable losses also limit the combined power use of low power devices. If we assume a 12V cable distribution length of 12 metres, and we want to keep cable losses below 10%, then the combined power use of all appliances is limited to about 150 watts (8.5% cable loss). For example, this allows the simultaneous use of two laptops (20 watts of power each), a DC refrigerator (45 watts), and five 8 watt LED-lamps (40 watts in total), which leaves another 25 watts of power for a couple of smaller devices.

How to Limit Cable Losses

There are several ways to get around the distribution losses of a low-voltage DC system. If it concerns a new building, its spatial layout could significantly limit the distribution cable length. For example, Dutch researchers managed to reduce total cable length in a house down from 40 metres to 12 metres. They did this by moving the kitchen and the living room (where most electricity is used) to the first floor, just below the roof (where the solar panels are), while moving the bedrooms to the ground floor. They also clustered most appliances in the central part of the building, right below the solar panels (see the illustration below). [16]

Distributie gelijkstroom in dc gebouw

Another way to reduce cable losses is to set up several independent solar systems per one or two rooms. This might be the only way to solve the issue in a larger, existing building that’s designed without a DC system in mind. While this strategy implies the use of extra solar charge controllers, it can greatly reduce the cable losses. This approach also allows the power use of all appliances to surpass 150 watts.

Setting up independent solar systems per one or two rooms is one way to limit cables losses and increase total power use

A third way to limit cable losses is to choose a higher voltage: 24 or 48V instead of 12V. Because the energy losses increase with the square of the current, doubling the voltage from 12 to 24V makes cable losses 4 times smaller, and switching to 48V decreases them by a factor of nine. This approach also allows the use of higher power devices and increases the total power that can be used by a DC system. However, higher voltages also have some disadvantages.

First, most low-voltage DC appliances currently on the market operate on 12V, so that the use of a 24 or 48V DC network involves the use of more DC/DC-adapters, which step down the voltage and also have conversion losses. Second, higher voltages (above 24V) eliminate the safety advantages of a DC system. In data centers and offices, as well as in the American residential buildings in the study mentioned earlier, DC electricity is distributed throughout the building at 380V, but this requires just as stringent safety measures as with 110V or 220V AC electricity. [17]

Slow Electricity

Shortening cable length or doubling the voltage to 24V still doesn’t allow for the use of high power devices like a microwave or a washing machine. There are two ways to solve this issue. The first is to install a hybrid AC/DC-system. In this case, a DC grid is set up for low power devices, such as LED-lights (< 10 watt), laptops (< 20 watt), a television (30-90 watt) and a refrigerator (<50 watt), while a separate AC grid is set up for high power devices. This is the approach for homes and small offices that’s promoted by the EMerge Alliance, a consortium of manufacturers of DC products, which devised a standard for a 24V DC / 110-220V AC hybrid system. [18]

Electric light DCLate 19th century, the only electric load in households was lighting.

Low power devices are (on average) responsible for 35-50% of total electricity use in a home. Even in the best-case-scenario (50% of the load), a hybrid system halves the energy efficiency gains we calculated above, which leaves us with an energy savings of only 8.5% to 13.5%, depending on the types of batteries used. These figures will be lower still due to cable losses. In short, a hybrid AC/DC system brings rather small energy savings, that could easily be erased by rebound effects.

The second way to solve the problem of high power devices is simply not to use them. This is the approach that’s followed in sailboats, motorhomes and caravans, where a supporting AC distribution system is simply not an option. This is the most sustainable solution to the limits of DC power, because in this case the choice for DC also results in a reduction of energy demand. Total energy savings could thus become much larger than the 17-27% calculated above, and then we finally have a radically better solution that could make a difference.

One way to solve the problem of high power devices is simply not to use them — this is the approach that’s followed in sailboats, motorhomes and caravans

Obviously, this strategy implies a change in our way of life. It would mean that electricity is used only for lighting, electronics and refrigeration, while non-electric alternatives are chosen for all other appliances. Not coincidentally, this is quite similar to how DC grids were operated in the late nineteenth century, when the only electric load was for lighting — first arc lamps and later incandescent bulbs.

Thus, no dishwasher, but doing the dishes by hand. No washing machine, but doing the laundry in a laundromat or with a manually operated machine. No tumble dryer, but a clothes line. No convenient and time-saving kitchen appliances like electric kettles, microwaves and coffee machines, but a traditional cooking stove operated by (bio)gas, a solar cooker, or a rocket stove. No vacuum cleaner, but a broom and a carpet-beater. No freezer, but fresh ingredients. No electric warm water boiler, but a solar boiler and a small wash at the sink if the sun doesn’t shine. No electric car, but a bicycle.

To figure out what’s possible, we’re converting Low-tech Magazine’s headquarters into an off-grid 12V DC system — more about that in the next post.

Written by Kris De Decker. Edited by Jenna Collett.



RELATED ARTICLES:

SOURCES & NOTES

[1] There is an analogy with hydraulic power: electric voltage corresponds to water pressure, while electric current corresponds to water flow. The invention of the hydraulic accumulator in the 1850s allowed higher water pressure and thus efficient transportation of water power over long distances.

[2] Study and simulation of a DC microgrid with focus on efficiency, use of materials and economic constraints (PDF), Simon Willems & Wouter Aerts, 2013-14

[3] Direct Current supply grids for LED lighting, LED professional

[4] DC microgrids scoping study: estimate of technical and economic benefits, Scott Backhaus et al., March 2015

[5] DC microgrids and the virtues of local electricity, Rajendra Singh & Krishna Shenai, IEEE Spectrum, 2014

[6] Comparison of cost and efficiency of DC versus AC in office buildings (PDF), Giuseppe Laudani, 2014

[7] Edison’s Revenge, The Economist, 2013

[8] Catalog of DC appliances and power systems, Karina Garbesi, Vagelis Vossos and Hongxia Shen, 2011

[9] DC building network and storage for BIPV integration, J. Hofer et al., CISBAT 2015, 2015

[10] However, DC power in data centers will not bring us a less energy-hungry internet — on the contrary.

[11] Also note that the efficiency of AC/DC adapters could be improved in a significant way, especially for low power devices. Many “wall warts” are needlessly wasteful because manufacturers of electric appliances want to keep costs down. If this would change, for example because of new laws, the advantage of switching to a DC grid would become smaller.

[12] Energy savings from direct-DC in US residential buildings, Vagelis Vossos et al, in Energy and Buildings, 2014

[13] In this study, the buildings use a combination of 24V DC for low power loads, and 380V DC for high-power devices and for distributing DC power throughout the house to limit cable losses.

[14] Electric power transmission and distribution losses (% of output), World Bank, 2014

[15] Rural areas usually have higher losses than urban areas, and a lone subdivision line that radiates out into the countryside can introduce very high losses.

[16] Concept for a DC low voltage house (PDF), Maaike Friedeman et al, Sustainable building 2002 conference

[17] A last — but rather desperate — way to lower distribution losses is to use thicker cables. The resistance in electric wires can be decreased not only by shortening the cables, but also by increasing their diameter (diameter here refers to the copper core). For example, if we would use 100 mm2 instead of 10 mm2 cables, we can have cables that are ten times longer for the same energy loss. Distributing 12V DC electricity across 100 metres of cable would yield an energy loss of only 3%. One problem with this approach is that the costs of electric cables increase linearly with the diameter. One metre of 100 mm2 cable will cost you about 50 euro, compared to 5 euro for a 10 mm2 cable. Sustainability also suffers because the higher use of copper has a significant environmental cost. Thick cables are heavy and less manageable, too. Thanks to Herman van Munster en Arie van Ziel for making this clear.

[18] Our standards, Merge Alliance, retrieved April 2016

Modstep is now a hub for everything; learn how to use it

Modstep, the step sequencer on steroids on iOS, just got a huge pile of new features. It hosts AU plug-ins (yes, iOS plug-ins). It adds per-track MIDI, for hardware and apps. It has loads of new features for clips and arranging. It is, basically, a MIDI daw with built-in instruments that’s unlike nearly anything on desktop – only it was designed from the ground-up for the iPad. In fact, it does so much that it’s a bit overwhelming. So, let’s take a birds-eye view of what’s new – and then turn to the singular educational force that s Jakob Haq to explain how to use it.

First, what’s new? A big release dropped just last week, called “1.1” – though “2.0” wouldn’t be a stretch.

Here’s the full feature list:
http://modstep.net/out-now-modstep-1-1/

The highlights:

Plug-ins. Work with Audio Unit plug-in instruments and effects on iOS – these are Apple’s new plug-in format that works both on desktop Macs and iOS. You can drag-and-drop instruments to tracks, and chain them together. So that means lots of sound combinations are at the ready (apart from Modstep’s own built-in instrument).

More MIDI. Per-track MIDI routing let you combine hardware and software instruments easily. There is also MIDI file import and export (so you could use Modstep to make clips to use in tools like Ableton Live, or import Standard MIDI Files – the developers were annoying me with endless renditions of the X-Files theme). And, adding to Modstep’s already impressive out-of-the-box support for hardware, there are new templates, too.

Clips and patterns are more usable. There’s a lot here. But you can pull up settings with a long tap, and see a preview of notes inside patterns. There are new options for how you manage and delete clips. Also, you can loop clips and loops and add scene follow action. That’s right – Modstep has added the feature that Ableton Live obviously needs yet still a decade later lacks, in the form of Scene “follow actions.”

More scale and tempo controls. Transposition, here we come: you can set a global scale. Or you can set scale and tempo per scene or scale per track, if you prefer.

Modstep acts as an effects processor. Route audio to and from a computer via Studiomux, or other apps via Audiobus. And you can add any number of plug-ins (until you run out of power) plus make master effects chains.

Play on the main screen. THere’s a global keyboard with pads and velocity so you can use the iPad as a controller, if you want. There’s also a metronome.

Also, a bunch of stuff is fixed.

AU: What is it good for?

So, Audio Unit plug-ins work on Modstep – great, now, where are the AU plug-ins?

Here are a few. Synths:

Effects and so – first, a bunch by Blamsoft:

And more:

  • RP-1 is a really pretty stereo delay processor (nicest of this bunch, actually, visually) with lots of routing options
  • MicSwap is a mic emulator, so very handy as a plug-in

Clearly, there’s nowhere near the selection and depth of what you get in desktop plug-ins – it seems the market just isn’t there yet. On the other hand, one or two of these – or even just a fondness for that great SEM synth – and you’ve justified the feature.

Tutorials

Start with this general overview:

Here’s a look at how internal instruments and plug-ins work – for the all-on-the-iPad workflow:

And here’s how MIDI works – for either apps (desktop or mobile) or outboard gear:

Or, for all the tutorials in one place, here’s a playlist:

More:

modstep.net

The post Modstep is now a hub for everything; learn how to use it appeared first on cdm createdigitalmusic.

Artists share Novation Circuit tips, with Shawn Rudiman and My Panda Shall Fly

As part of a collaboration with Novation, we spoke with artists Shawn Rudiman and My Panda Shall Fly about how they’re working with Novation’s Circuit. Both artists got their hands on the updates to the Circuit hardware in advance – providing drag-and-drop sample loading and sample editing. They talk a bit about what that’s meant to them – and what they think about working with hardware in general.

Track ID, from the beginning: “Dark House” by Shawn Rudiman, appropriately from his Hardware Survival Techniques EP.

The video gives you some highlights, but I spoke to both artists to get more details about their rigs and how they’re using them.

I have to highlight this quote from Shawn Rudiman, about why playing matters (and which illustrates again why I love Shawn so much):

“You gotta play it – you gotta be a musician. You gotta own up to the instrument you’ve been given.”

Shawn Rudiman

Shawn’s hardware sets are legendary; he plays down-and-dirty techno on a sprawling table full of gear. So before we get to what he’s doing, we have to first examine that stage rig. I convinced Shawn to draw a sketch of that for CDM:

shawnstagediagram

CDM: You talked about the computer – I’m curious, actually, where is the computer in your workflow?

Shawn: The computer for me in my workflow is a recording device, peripheral for editing sounds and sometimes Library type functions. It’s also a sound source for a lot of my older Samplers. I’ll use soft synths and such to generate things and run them into my desk, then sample from the desk into the Samplers to start the process again. Now it will also be added to edit and change the samples and sounds on the Circuit.

How are you clocking things? (Especially since you mention the failsafe.)

The [Roland] TR-8 is Master Clock. It goes to a 2 by 8 Splitter. From there it is distributed to all others in some form. II in on the splitter is from the Future Retro Swynx. It receives its clock from the TR, then sends it back into the splitter after it has been altered timing-wise via its swing function. There it can be assigned to any MIDI output as well to clock anything else off the cuff. I use the Swynx to clock the [Arturia] MicroBrute and the DIN sync out of it to clock the engine sequencer. The Swynx has excellent MPC percentage style swing on a gigantic knob. So it’s perfect for impromptu swing changes to change the groove.

There are so many layers and so many pieces of gear here; what’s your approach to sequencing all of them? How do you avoid having too much at once, or things getting sort of out of control?

Sometimes it is difficult to keep everything from being a giant shitstorm of noise. It took a long time to realize that on a giant sound system, less is more. There’s a fine line between just right and too much. I try to limit that by making rounds on each machine of sorts. I let them each have their moment like jazz players. T

It’s not easy holding them all back and trying to keep the clutter to a minimum.

The Circuit fits in nicely since I use it mainly for its polyphonic synth and its mono synth — it becomes another horn section or another bass player or pianist of sorts. It also works as alternate percussion and for lying underneath as a very Snappy Punchy kick. It’s very malleable timing wise, and sound wise, so it’s very flexible to work a groove and milk all you can out of it with it… by shifting or nudging or changing sequence lengths.

Shawn Rudiman

Shawn Rudiman

Maybe a blasphemous question, but — obviously, at this point, some people are sick to death of Roland drum machine sounds, just because they get used so much in this genre. Do you have a sense of how to balance that? When are the times that those classic sounds can anchor a set? When is it time for something diferent?

I use the classic Roland sounds to underlay especially the kick. I double it with various kick drums from my [Korg Electribe] ES-2 and the Circuit to sort of change up the feel of the kick drum since … it is the canvas upon which we paint dance music. To get a certain sound or a certain feel out of things, changing percussion sounds on the fly is very important. It allows you to get a certain destination out of the sound. Example early Chicago. Or Detroit. Or Berlin. Those sounds can determine the style of the music. And the feel you can go for. Just as if you are selecting a record – except you are making it as you go. I load my ES-2 with a huge array of very essential drum sounds throughout dance music. So when I feel it’s time for a very rumbly muddy, sort of Basic Channel kick Drum, I can quickly know exactly where to go to get it and change anything that’s needed. Then that’s doubled or tripled sometimes with other kick drums for drum sounds.

I got to see some of the rough-cut footage with the crowd – everything I’d expect from you. How does it compare, making these kinds of live sets? There’s obviously a different feeling from the crowd who can see you when you’re playing live; they see something different is happening. But what about the back of the room? What’s really different playing live versus DJing?

Honestly, there should be no difference in how the club goer perceives the set between live and DJ.

If …and only if… the live performer’s doing a very good job! If it’s a very lackluster and kind of boring set, then people will notice. That’s how live sets have gotten their bad rap as being boring, the performers have been not really giving there best or phoning shit in. You can’t blame the machines. They only do what they’re told. Analog or digital makes no difference.

For that matter, is there anything you get from DJing you don’t get from live, or that informs how you play live?

Yes. DJing can really sort of show you how the flow should go live. When I do play records, there’s a flow that seems to happen from one song to the next. It’s the feeling of hearing a song you know you have with you as one is playing. That has to happen of sorts playing live… even though there is no next song; you’re creating it as you go. Or have absolutely no structure but a giant shitload of pieces. And even those pieces are alterable on the spot to fit the mood. From seeing and hearing DJ’s – I based how to play a live set around a DJ set. It needs to be dynamic, and needs to be a continuous flow and it needs to pull the listener and just as much as any DJ set – OR MORE!

DF8B8680

One issue with getting more live sets in clubs, it seems to me, is just getting clubs with good techs and tech riders and so on. Is there any hope that this situation can improve in those regards? How can we have more live sets and support more live techno, in particular?

I tried to depend as little as possible on any club, promoter or anything that does not come with me. I usually when flying asked for an audio mixer, power strips (unless I’m in EU or outside the States), and an Arturia MicroBrute – Since they are cheap and everywhere all over the world. Relying on sound people is a very bad idea. You should know how your stuff needs to sound. And relying on a club or promoters to get you important things is also just adding stress to something that doesn’t need it. I send the house system a left and right from the mixer. And I almost always go into the DJ mixer as another Channel. This allows me to mix into a previous set and blend or use any option the DJ has as well. Why not? May as well take every advantage we can!

My Panda Shall Fly

My Panda Shall Fly

My Panda Shall Fly

My Panda Shall Fly, aka Suren Seneviratne, is a talent to watch – hugely prolific, with releases on the likes of Project Mooncircle and Gang of Ducks. He’s one of those ninjas Shawn is talking about. So I talked to him more to understand how he thinks.

CDM: I’d love to hear a bit about how this fits into your rig. So we know Shawn has a rig that includes sort of every machine from the last couple of years. What’s your live rig look like? Your studio rig? How do they differ?

Suren: My studio is full of loads of stuff like old grooveboxes and 90s synths. That’s kind of the thing I’m into. I also have loads of other small modified bits that make noise, as well as a bunch of software. My live rig comprises a Roland SP404SX and [Korg] KAOSS Pad [KP3+], which works great for performing my music live without having to drag all my gear around. I’m able to store high-resolution samples and loops of my tracks across the banks of the sampler allowing me to perform my music in a semi-improvisatory fashion. The KP3 allows for extra fun thanks to its instant-gratification touch-screen FX. I’ve only had the Circuit for a couple of months now, but I can totally see how it could integrate into my live setup very easily – especially now that it doubles as a sampler.

One thing about getting more tangible is, I know it can be more demanding of playing. Is it something you practice; how do you work on your chops?

I do practice my live set before my shows, often switching tracks around and including new bits I’m working on. But I’ve been playing live with my current setup for a few years now, so I’m very used to how the gear works and what buttons do what. It helps me work really quickly this way, no matter what tracks I’m playing because the process is always the same.

I love this fader breakout box – how is it mapped?

I use the Kenton Control Freak which is a real powerhouse of a controller. It can send just about any type of MIDI message, and does other fun things like CV > MIDI conversion too. Configurations for all 16 faders are called ‘profiles’, and I have 4 profiles (giving me 64 faders) all mapped to control lots of parameters hidden inside Circuit’s synthesizer like Oscillator Waveform, Reverb Damping and Filter Type. When I saw the MIDI Implementation Chart, I was blown away by the amount of fine control that was available inside this thing. There’s over 35 LFO shapes!

You have a really lovely melodic sample in the video. How are you playing it? Obviously, we have these four parts to work with – are you re-pitching from the knobs? Triggering different samples on the fly?

It’s totally possible to pitch samples using the macro knob. You just have to use your ear to find the note you’re after as there is no visual indication of what pitch you’re on.

Suren's Circuit, in the studio.

Suren’s Circuit, in the studio.

You talk about using Isotonik’s editor – what does that mean for your fader box, will you keep this mega fader setup?

The Isotonik editor is superb and allows to really get inside the device, and is great for assigning macro knob controls – something I can’t do on my Control Freak. But I like to have the Control Freak nearby for computer-free operation :)

Can you talk a bit about what you’ve been doing with the editor, actually? Any patches you want to describe?

The best thing about the editor is being able to play around with what you can’t do on the Circuit itself. Each patch on the Circuit (factory or user) has its own macro knob assignments – so you can’t tweak Ring Mod Level unless one of the macro knobs have been linked to it, for example. But what makes the macro knobs super-powerful is that they can control up to four parameters at once! So if you wished, you could get stuck in and assign 4 parameters for each of the eight macro knobs and end up with 32 editable parameters per patch. That’s an awesome amount of sound tweakability, using what appears to be just eight knobs on the unit itself. I also love the modulation matrix. Any synth that has one is welcome in my studio. A trick I like for giving the impression of having three synth parts is laying down recorded parts on Synth 1 and 2, and then playing a lead melody over the top of one of them on a higher octave.

You have of course some fantastic productions. What’s your production process like – where do you start, and how do you know you’re finished?

Good question! I’m afraid I don’t have a definitive answer to this. I wish I did, as sometimes I could spend a few days on something and be happy with it and then there’s times where I’ve had a track lying around on a folder on my desktop for years before it finally makes it onto a release. I think knowing when something is finished comes from a feeling that everything makes sense. Or when you get bored.

I love getting hands-on with my gear which is why I have so many knobs and faders in my studio. Sometimes I find inspiration by creating strange loops using one piece of gear, other times I might find a gorgeous sample of something I’ll find on YouTube that I’ll cut up and go from there.. I’ve recently finished a sample-pack of over 350 sounds and loops which gave me a reason to spend some quality time with almost all my bits of gear and coax cool sounds from each bit of kit I have.

https://global.novationmusic.com/circuit/circuit

Disclosure: this story was produced in collaboration with and with support from Novation.

The post Artists share Novation Circuit tips, with Shawn Rudiman and My Panda Shall Fly appeared first on cdm createdigitalmusic.

Here are 3 epic performances on modular that aren’t noodling

We revere the modular synthesizers of the past, but that ignores important innovations both in how modules are designed and how people play. Apart from the fact that Eurorack is quite a lot slimmer, lighter, and cheaper than its predecessors, we have vastly expanded the range of what modules do in ways that lend themselves to live performances. That’s not to say it’s for everyone – a modular performance still involves a lot of pre-patching for people, and there’s clearly something to be said for computers and standalone gear. But that’s perhaps partly the point: the modular solution can stand toe-to-toe with performances using these other paradigms.

Or, to put it another way: you no longer need fear a long, noodle-y rambling performance if you see a modular onstage. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) If you do, you can blame the artist, not the tools.

Continuing our ongoing look at live electronic performance, then, here are three performances that have popped into my view recently, among many, many others (and a week of such performances at Berlin’s Superbooth).

One Colin Benders is livestreaming Eurorack-only performances, and posting the results to a YouTube channel – kindly sent in to us by reader Jan Klooster. Colin, the Utrecht, Netherlands based artist, is better known as Kyteman. The ADHD-diagnosed, trumpet-playing musician and composer assembled an all-acoustic ensemble covering hip-hop and other genres. That instrumentation had no Eurorack whatsoever – think instead eighteen musicians, opera singers, and a choir.

Well, now the orchestra has been traded for a nice stack of gear, it seems. There are already several videos posted; the debut features intensely layered dance music:

Next up, Siebe Janssen, whose gorgeous performance I found via Tony Rolando of MakeNoise. Siebe is no modular purist – follow his YouTube channel for a bit of everything, from computer to keyboard synth. Here, he combines a modular rig with the Elektron Analog RYTM and a Moog Sub Phatty. The Elektron itself is worth highlighting – you’ll see lots of modular users employing Elektron’s gear as a workable stand-in for a computer as far as flexibility (without the awkward laptop intruding on the rig).

Also, at the heart of the modular rig is MakeNoise’s DPO module, a lovely dual oscillator with lots of shaping options.

dpo

More music from this Amsterdam-based artist:

And lastly, we turn from the Netherlands to Germany. (I have inadvertently made this an all-Euro Eurorack post. Northern European weather and sunlight gives you lots of time to play with modulars?)

Lastly, but one of my personal favorites, Blush Response has been a rapidly ascending star of the modular scene. He’s a great embodiment of the post-punk, retro-EBM electronic phenomena, from live techno to more experimental outings (and, occasionally, rock-tinged stuff with vocals), releasing on labels like the up-and-coming aufnahme + wiedergabe. I’ve talked about his work in the context of live techno generally (not necessarily concerned with whether something is modular or not), and he’s talked to us and KOMA Elektronik about technique, including how he integrates Elektron gear with his setup.

Now, his gripping Boiler Room set is up, with deep excursions into techno – and shows continued refinement of how he plays:

It’s also worth mentioning Joey as he has one big release just out, and another upcoming. Reshaper is out this month on digital. It’s on the storied German label ant-zen — yet another example of the kind of great music showing up on Bandcamp, that last bastion of the netlabel (worth checking out their whole catalog):

reshaper by blush response

Konkurs is coming in June, combining him with still more EBM influence in the form of Sarin (if that was all gobbledy-gook to you, you know, just listen):

Seen live electronic performances that inspire you? Modular? Tiny machines? 1-bit instruments? Circuit-bent toys? We like them all; let us know about them.

The post Here are 3 epic performances on modular that aren’t noodling appeared first on cdm createdigitalmusic.

Beautifully made Jimi Hendrix automaton with realistic motions

Take a look at this amazing automaton figure depicting legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix. The amount of lifelike motion obtained from just a handful of cams and the figure’s articulated joints is truly impressive. The stylized carving and wash colors are lovely too.

This automaton was made by artist Daniel Bennan. You can see more automata on his Pinterest page.


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