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Novation Launchpad X, mini are the latest take on the hit music grid controller

Novation’s new grids remain straightforward, but now offer updated expressive and portable versions. And a separate bonus – DIYers wanting to make custom apps for these grids will find it easier than ever.

It’s now a full decade since the first Launchpad burst on the scene. There were grids before, and certainly a multitude of grids since. But what set the Launchpad apart has always been its focus on the task at hand. Launchpads are ultra-rugged, lightweight, simple grids that do just that. So, you’ll probably still want some knobs and faders, but the Launchpad was always the go-to for an a la carte 8×8 set of friendly squares. And they’re simple, lean, and light enough that you can also toss one in a backpack – especially if we’re talking the mini.

Novation today are revising two of the most popular models:

The LaunchpadMini [MK3] is an adorable, tiny grid that now has RGB lights. It’s really hard to overstate how portable and useful that is; I got a test unit and have started taking it everywhere. US$114.99.

The Launchpad X is the latest middle-of-the-road model, which now boasts more expressive, playable features for its pressure- and velocity-sensitive pads. US$229.99.

Both now have USB-C, as we gradually usher in the age of the latest USB connector, and both continue to work out of the box easily with Ableton Live.

There’s a bonus twist, though – Novation are adding a standard API which will make it easier than before to integrate Launchpad with your own custom software inventions and hacks.

I’ve tested both controllers, and immediately find them invaluable.

New hardware

Okay, so first – if you don’t know the Launchpads, yeah, these are grids. (Full credit to the original, independently designed monome much that predated it by a few years, though those aren’t available broadly like the Launchpad!)

What Novation has managed to pull off in the intervening years is to make a string of variations and regular iterations without sacrificing simplicity, and compact size and weight. Later versions have added pressure and velocity sensitivity, color, and portability, plus the ability to operate without drivers. (The very first Launchpad won’t work with iPad, Android, or Raspberry Pi, among others; newer models will.)

Part of the advantage of the Launchpad line is that these generic grids could work with anything. But there are dedicated triggers for Ableton Live when you want them, and that remains the most popular use case. Both Launchpad X and mini MK3 will launch clips and scenes and control the transport. Plus, while you don’t get continuous control as with faders or knobs, you can still control the mixer and other parameters from the grid in a unique, one-touch fashion.


Note the dedicated Capture MIDI button, top right. What you can’t see: Launchpad X is also bigger, and features pads that register how hard you hit them, and if you apply pressure as you hold them down. (Launchpad mini works just as on/off buttons.) Plus there are extra shortcut labels, as well.

Launchpad X

  • More responsive velocity- and sensitivity-sensitive RGB pads
  • Drum and Note modes for programming drum kits and melodies, respectively. And they’re really simple, like dedicated buttons that say “Drum” and “Note” on them
  • Capture MIDI button which lets you immediately store an idea even if you forgot to hit record, as found as part of the latest Ableton Live. (I uh envy those of you tapping out these brilliant ideas; I need the pressure of the record button, but hey… )
  • Dynamic Note and Scale mode for keeping stuff in key
  • Dedicated stop, solo, mute, record arm, levels, pans, and send

You can find all of these things elsewhere, but Launchpad X literally fits on my desk when other gear won’t, and it’s uncommonly easy to find those one-button tools versus other more complex controllers.

Plus, having tested the Launchpad X, the performance is now really fantastic and expressive – something that generally requires more money or (again) more space and complexity. It’s fantastic to have a truly expressive Launchpad.

https://novationmusic.com/launch/launchpad-x

LaunchpadMini MK3

The mini also has Drum and Dynamic Note modes, still has dedicated controls, but now adds USB-C and RGB light-up pads to the existing mini design.

I always loved the mini, but it felt like a throwback going to those monochromatic pads – and visual feedback becomes somehow more important since you sacrifice velocity and pressure.

https://novationmusic.com/launch/launchpad-mini

And extras

Both tools also give you membership to Novation’s Sound Collective which delivers a free plug-in a few times a year, plus a bunch of additional plug-ins (AAS, XLN, klevgrand, Softube).

Both products:

https://novationmusic.com/news/introducing-launchpad-x-and-new-launchpad-mini

Here’s KiNK playing live with the mini:


Yep, LaunchpadMini MK3 is portable – seen here alongside Sensel Morph with Buchla Thunder overlay for a truly expressive rig that fits into a satchel easier than most glossy magazines do. (I’ve been testing it.) There’s more to come, though, thanks to customizability.

Drum mode gives you four easy sets of pads.

DIY delight

Here’s where things get interesting – you can customize everything. And since the Launchpad is driverless and relatively simple, you can quickly plug it into your Raspberry Pi or PC or some custom hardware you’re building and quickly prototype. And you won’t be tripping over buttons that you can’t customize because they’re tied to specific software from the same company.

These customizations will exist on a number of levels:

Custom MIDI mappings. There are three custom modes on mini and four on Launchpad X, which lets you send MIDI CC, notes and program change messages, and use rows or columns as faders.

That means multiple pages of control you can map to whatever you want, via Novation Components. So, for instance, put the mini alongside a compact controller with faders and knobs, and you get a controller rig you could fit into a purse, let alone a backpack.

MIDI API. Everything the Launchpad does is also available as a programmable API – in both directions, so output from the device, plus the ability to light the pads. This will allow third-party developers to make all sorts of new integrations with popular software, or for hackers and artists to try their own custom creations for tools like Pd, Reaktor, Max/MSP, Processing, and VCV Rack.

r_cycle – like a hardware module for your software. Okay, so given this all runs on MIDI, what if you could be a live coder or patcher with access to the Launchpad grid directly from software. I mean, sure, you can do that with MIDI, but that means tediously referencing MIDI CC numbers and other awful things. What if it were more elegant?

That’s the vision of an open source project called r_cycle that will build on the API and work with your favorite DIY tools. It’s not part of Launchpad in its officially supported use, but – that’s not really the point. The point is, you’ll be able to quickly spawn, say, a colored grid that plays a particular synth you’re live coding or patching in software.

This is obviously exciting and worth a deeper look; expect more on this soon.

But yeah, the idea of just live coding hardware? That’s pretty excellent.

I was already starting to play with the Launchpad mini MK3 with VCV Rack, and I’m keeping it with me while I work with Pd and other tools.

More on all of this soon.

The post Novation Launchpad X, mini are the latest take on the hit music grid controller appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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A poetic choreographic vision of change, in Hercules & Love Affair video

It’s called “dance music,” but it’s rare to find music, movement, and emotion captured to film. That’s what makes this new music video must-watch.

And it’s all a meditation on “change” – that theme, and the feelings around it, I think make this video something all of us can relate to:

Videos for dance tracks have become so pedestrian that I almost dread anything mentioning a video or video premiere in my inbox. The difference here: Andrew Butler’s Hercules & Love Affair is already a project that integrates dance, and his work here is as director as well as music producer.

Butler (who you see make cameos in the video) teamed up with Joie Iacono, another talented DJ with deep musical sensibilities, to co-produce and co-direct the video. It’s polyglot meets polyglot, each of them having transplanted themselves from central roles in the New York scene to new life in Europe (Mr. Butler to Belgium, Ms. Iacono to Berlin). Joie’s photographic imagination pairs perfectly with Andrew’s groove and dance fantasies.

And the results are simple, but arresting – concise, motivated gestures with occasional stuttered edits to match the music. This sort of thing can quickly become cliche, but veteran choreographer Joshua Hubbard has a uniquely well suited language. He has worked with the likes of Elton John, but that’s not the main thing here – his choreography is irregular, contorted, yet still relentlessly lyrical. So the result is the ability to make haiku-like mysteries out of simple moments.

And well, watch him improvise to see what I mean:

It’s a shame dance music videos can’t always be on this level, so it’s worth taking note when they are.

The track is produced by Andy Butler with Alec Storey as Hercules & Love Affair, and you also get sculptures in the video by Egon Van Herreweghe and Thomas Min.

The EP is out on November 1. More at PAPER, who premiered this:

https://www.papermag.com/hercules-love-affair-change-2640928744.html?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3

Hopefully we’ll talk choreography more soon, as it plays a central role in new audiovisual work by Alessandro Cortini, which I caught at Slovenia’s Sonica Festival.

The post A poetic choreographic vision of change, in Hercules & Love Affair video appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Fractal Bits is a drum synth with over 4 billion sounds, for iOS and Android [warmplace.ru]

Alexander Zolotov, genius creator of SunVox and other tools, strikes again. This time, you get a “fractal” drum synth capable of producing some four billion unique sounds.

Each drum sound starts with an 8-character code, from which the synth generates the sound via “fractal algorithms.” It seems we may need to talk to him more about what the heck is going on here, but the results are gorgeous, metallic textures with richly varied possibilities.

You just navigate with the simplest controls a drum synth may have ever seen: next, previous, and (for editing the codes) edit. (There’s also a LCK button to “lock” a particular drum hit you like so you don’t lose it as you randomize the rest.)

Because there are eight characters spawning all of the sounds, you can copy or paste presets as plain text and share with others.

The drum synth is also playable. You can record individual hits and export them for use elsewhere (as in your favorite hardware drum machine). You can just finger drum in real time. You can control the synth from MIDI. You can export full recordings.

For now, this is only available on mobile platforms, but I’m trying it out on both iOS and Android. And as usual, Alexander has packed this with features – and this can be a sketchpad for his excellent, omni–OS-compatible tracker, which also impossibly costs just a few bucks:

  • three types of keyboards for live drumming: on-screen buttons, PC keyboard, MIDI input;
  • six additional processing parameters + control of all parameters via MIDI;
  • real-time audio recording to WAV (32-bit);
  • export to: WAV (one file or a set), SunVox (samples + effects in one file), text clipboard;
  • iOS: Audio Unit Extension (AUv3), Audiobus, Wi-Fi export/import.

I mean, wow. Donationware + $2 on the app store.

https://warmplace.ru/soft/fbits/

Two dollars for 4 billion sounds.

The post Fractal Bits is a drum synth with over 4 billion sounds, for iOS and Android [warmplace.ru] appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Autechre streamed a 12-hour set live on Mixlr Sunday; listen to all of it

With eclectic sounds ranging from experimental hip hop to IDM, the legendary Warp act seems to have made an unexpected virtual DJ appearance over the weekend.

So, for anyone pondering how to fill 12 hours with music, here you go:

http://mixlr.com/autechre/showreel/autechre-on-mixlr-2/?fbclid=IwAR3gteRcTIQj_-leORUdwQWrguNEEXBS41hU1QGuiG2PWWquUbcLfuDoNHY

Mixlr is an independent tool for live streaming, with broadcast tools for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. I wasn’t tuned in on Sunday when this happened, but it seems there was live chat with (presumably Sean).

The company is based in Shoreditch, London, and is itself an interesting story – still private, still independent since its 2010 launch, even as many other audio and music startups have come and gone and even mighty SoundCloud has seen its founders depart the leadership team. So it’s kind of encouraging to see Autechre show up there.

There’s some fun chatter on Reddit to follow:

Thanks to Mike of Wunderblock Records for the tip, as I shake jetlag from 10,000 km of travel yesterday! Feel free to chime in on comments with a) track IDs, b) your own live streaming experience/station, or anything else.

Feature image:

“Autechre – Confield | CD Cover Design” by Gita Elek, Visual Arts Institute Eger is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The post Autechre streamed a 12-hour set live on Mixlr Sunday; listen to all of it appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

You should delay upgrading to iOS 13, too, music makers – but don’t sweat the future

Okay, so you got the message not to rush into macOS Catalina. But we didn’t talk about the new iOS and what it means for musicians using iPads and iPhones in their work. Let’s explain.

What’s the hurry?

With iOS, just as with macOS, the main message is – don’t rush. Moving to grab a new OS the day it’s out is crazy. There’s virtually no case where you need to stay that current for music making. At the opposite extreme, never upgrading the OS is also problematic in most cases. You’ll eventually miss out on newer features in your favorite apps, and can even create security vulnerabilities if you wait long enough. (Since an iPad or iPhone is definitely connected to the Internet, that’s a serious issue in a way that it wouldn’t be on, say, a vintage KORG MS-20 hardware synth.)

iOS does pose an additional challenge: it’s practically impossible to roll back after upgrading. So take your time, leave some weeks for the bugs to be ironed out, and make sure you’re not upgrading right before going onstage with your iPad as a live instrument.

Okay, with all of that out of the way – iOS 13 doesn’t appear as though it will cause any long-lasting incompatibilities with music software. iOS 13 brought some major changes, particularly on the iPad, but those are gradually getting smoother out – in particular with the iOS 13.1 release.

Fixes are here or inbound

iOS 13 got off to a somewhat rocky start for music, but Apple are fixing issues and redeemed the OS, according to various developers with whom I’ve spoken.

There are two specific areas I’ve been tracking.

Bluetooth MIDI. iOS 13 does in the short term introduce some connectivity issues with working with MIDI over Bluetooth and discoverability. I’ve seen sporadic unconfirmed reports of this, plus an official statement from KORG that their wireless devices that work over Bluetooth MIDI are presently incompatible. (That’s microKEY Air, nanoKEY Studio, and nanoKONTROL Studio.)

Apple did make changes to some Bluetooth security permissions, as the company seems uniquely focused on security and privacy as issues. (See also: macOS Catalina.) I would presume that may be the reason for this.

KORG says they are working on a fix, though. Wired connections are also a workaround. There seems to be no evidence this will be a long-term issue, just something that requires some short-term fixes.

See KORG’s statement on iOS 13 and Catalina.

Inter-App Audio (and Audiobus). This one I think probably impacts more people – but there’s actually good news here.

Starting in iOS 12.4, software like Audiobus might encounter an issue where routing audio between apps ceased working when operating in the background (or interrupted by a call, etc.).

Anyway, it’s not so important now. These issues are fixed, both on iOS 12 (12.4.2+) and iOS 13 (13.1+).

Audiobus remains a great way to route audio between apps. And the migration to AUv3 from the original architecture is – actually okay, as well. I spoke with the developer of Audiobus and Loopy about how that transition will go earlier this year:

Other issues. iOS 13.1 delivered a bunch of fixes to various unexpected behaviors, and developers are following suit. (Bleeding edge, advanced apps like Moog’s Minimoog Model D and Model 15 saw some issues, which have since been resolved, CDM has confirmed.)

There are also some reasons to genuinely look forward to iOS 13, particularly in that it finally adds real file management (with Files), though it’ll take some time for developers to update their tools.

Bottom line

I’m not here to bash Apple releases or to be a cheerleader. The question is what will allow you to focus on making music. Right now, from Apple, that’s looking like macOS Mojave for the rest of 2019, and iOS 12.4.2+ or 13.1.

iOS 13 is a reasonable update at the moment if you’ve got some time to make adjustments. You don’t need to grab it right this instant, but you certainly could if you’re not sitting backstage about to play live on Bluetooth MIDI controllers.

For users of capable iPads, if you want an insanely exhaustive review of the iPad-specific iPadOS, Ars has you covered:

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2019/10/ipados-review-the-ipad-is-dead-long-live-the-ipad/

Love it or hate iOS, I think it is plainly inaccurate to claim that Apple isn’t looking at these issues. We can say objectively they are attempting to fix issues identified by third-party music developers – as they should, as any OS vendor should. You don’t have to love the results, but you can’t say the process isn’t happening.

And on another level, I think it’s equally fair to say that Apple’s iPad is unmatched if what you’re looking to buy is a dedicated touch tablet. Sure, Windows is a player with its Surface line for running Windows software with some touch capabilities, and you will definitely even prefer a Surface if you want to run desktop-only software like Ableton Live or Reaktor.

But there’s no reason to change the evaluation of the iPad as a platform. Their low-end models are already powerful enough to run a host of live music and audio apps, with a growing range of pro-quality tools from the likes of Eventide. (That in itself is a big enough story to talk about separately, since it makes Eventide’s effects accessible and affordable like never before. There are other examples, too – but this one is particularly plain.)

If we missed something, do sound off in comments – developers or users – as we’d love to hear your experience and pass it along.

The post You should delay upgrading to iOS 13, too, music makers – but don’t sweat the future appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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Some brutal handmade electronic sounds live, from Balfa

It’s Friday night; you want to set the mood. How about some violent electronic sounds from the handmade electronics of Spain’s Balfa? ¡Por supuesto!

We premiered Balfa’s music video and explored the range of his dynamic music last month. It’s time to return to check in on his live performance:

Details:

Live performance @ Eufònic Festival – 6th September 2019
Live improvisation while exploring the handmade devices I built. All the sound is generated only by analog crafted machines and synthesizers.
Video produced by Nektar Studio – IG: @nektarstudio

If you read Spanish, he did an interview in his native tongue with Red Bull accompanying the premiere of this live set documentation:

Mira en exclusiva el singular directo de Balfa

Previously:

The post Some brutal handmade electronic sounds live, from Balfa appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Quick! This ffmpeg cheat sheet solves your video, audio conversion needs, for free

Video, audio, convert, extract – once, these tasks were easy with QuickTime Pro, but now it’s gone. ffmpeg to the rescue – any OS, no money required.

It’s Friday, some deadlines (or the weekend) are looming, so seems as good a time as any to share this.

ffmpeg is a free, powerful tool for Mac, Windows, and Linux, with near magical abilities to convert audio and video in all sorts of ways. Even though it’s open source software with a lineage back to the year 2000, it very often bests commercial tools. It does more, better, and faster in a silly number of cases.

There’s just one problem: getting it to solve a particular task often involves knowing a particular command line invocation. You could download a graphical front end, but odds are that’ll just slow you down. So in-the-know media folks invariably make collections of little code bits they find useful.

Coder Jean-Baptiste Jung has saved you the trouble, with a cheat sheet of all the most useful code. And these bear striking resemblance to some of the stuff you used to be able to do in QuickTime Pro before Apple killed it.

19 FFmpeg Commands For All Needs [CatsWhoCode]

And on GitHub: https://gist.github.com/protrolium/e0dbd4bb0f1a396fcb55

There are some particularly handy utilities there involving audio, which is where tools like Adobe’s subscription-only commercial options often fail. (Not to mention Adobe is proving it will cut off some localities based on politics – greetings, Venezuelan readers.)

It’s great stuff. But if you see something missing, put it here, and we’ll make our own little CDM guide.

More invaluable cheat sheets

We have a winner:

The above is great for a browse, but with everything covered and an interactive guide, you can’t beat this:

https://amiaopensource.github.io/ffmprovisr/ – by https://amianet.org/

Thanks to reader Jim Bell for the tip!

One alternative resource: for community-sourced command line recipes, check commandlinefu, which has a bunch of ffmpeg-related ones (and community up-voting):

https://www.commandlinefu.com/commands/matching/ffmpeg/ZmZtcGVn/sort-by-votes?fbclid=IwAR0TYuZZJknGnA2ro2c-yUI6weY8aZZO8yBrtls_RtRXs8rIz1cizyER7wA

Thanks to reader Lenny Mastrototaro for the tip.

Wait, wait, there’s more!

If you’re working with audio, sox – also free and open source and command line – covers some of the areas ffmpeg misses. Thanks to comments for the reminder; I use this all the time.

http://sox.sourceforge.net/

It also works on Mac, Windows, and Linux – meaning you only need one tool. An in fact, someone has done a cheat sheet for it, too:

https://github.com/chubin/cheat.sheets/blob/master/sheets/sox

A three-platform alternative to ffmpeg is MP4Box. I’d have to do a precise breakdown to work out which capabilities are specific to each MP4Box and ffmpeg, but since they’re both free, you can install them side by side and be ready for any situation. (It might even be worth keeping these on a USB key for emergencies.)

MP4Box isn’t normally downloaded separately but as part of the GPAC open media framework:

Now, they have mercifully integrated all their recipes directly into the documentation, so you don’t need a separate cheat sheet:

Why not use a GUI?

It seems I’m getting this question a lot. I’m not anti-GUI or some kind of command line ninja by any stretch of the imagination. But a GUI causes four problems:

Functionality. The GUI front ends for tools like ffmpeg don’t always cover its full set of features, and they may not be as up to date as the direct ffmpeg build (since they’re maintained separately and unofficially).

Portability. Some of the GUIs are not cross-platform. With the command line, a single workflow works on every OS. And you can even use them on a machine that doesn’t have a windowing environment loaded. Front ends also are more likely to encounter OS version conflicts than command lines.

Scriptability. Command line tools are almost always more easy to script and automate – and again, I’m no ninja; this stuff is sort of Google/DuckDuckGo/StackExchange-able in a few minutes.

Speed. Because of the nature of transcoding, it may well be easier to copy-paste a solution from above than it is to learn how each GUI works and where it has hidden the feature you need. Again, I’m not anti-GUI, but this is a pretty particular use case that really fits the command line. Literally, I bet you could have solved your problem and transcoded in the time it took you to read this section.

There’s just one tool I recommend for cross-platform GUI operation, and that’s the excellent Handbrake. (Some mishaps with VLC have proven to me that it’s a decent player, but not a great transcoder/utility.) Shutter Encoder is new to me, but it has one major advantage as a GUI – it has some previewing capability. Mac/Windows only, though.

More tips? Keep them coming.

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