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Hell freezes over, Reason 9.5 adds VST support

For those who fear we might live in the End Times, I have some really terrible news. Propellerhead is adding VST plug-in support to Reason.

Yep, that’s Propellerhead who for years had sworn they’d never add plug-ins because of concerns about stability, compatibility, and even simple features like undo implementation – and because conventional plug-ins don’t integrate the way that native devices in Reason’s trademark rack do.

So what happened? Well, first, Propellerhead found they had something of a hit in their own Rack Extension format and accompanying store. Based on conversations I’ve had with developers, the business opportunity there isn’t quite what you get from the plug-in or mobile app markets in general, but the format is reasonably easy to develop for and the sales have been nothing to sneeze at. And this got Reason users – and Propellerhead – into the idea that Reason was something users could extend.

So now, Reason gets VST. And that’s a big deal. Reason remains a hugely significant production tool for a lot of people. And not having to go elsewhere just to run a plug-in like Serum might well keep more of the Reason user base inside the tool. (Really, there’s no reason you couldn’t use Reason for all your production tasks now.)

The news gets its own dramatic intro video, complete with gushing developers (well, it’s been a long wait, and a lot of us do really like Reason):

VSTs in Reason both work the way you’d expect in other DAWs and (more or less) the way you’d expect in Reason. So on some level, this is what all other music production tools with plug-in support work. VSTs installed to a special folder on your Mac or PC appear for use when you run Reason. (One slight concern there: they’ll clutter up your choices of devices, it appears; I have to see if you can hide them easily.)

VST UIs appear in a separate window. So they don’t appear side-by-side in the rack the way Rack Extensions do, though that also means they can take advantage of GUI functionality that would otherwise be impossible. (And they can take up more screen real estate, especially.)

reason95-screenshot-2-dbe3021ad885

Propellerhead being Propellerhead, though, they’ve added some extra features. You can route CV (control “voltage”) and audio signal to and from these plug-ins the way you can native devices. That means there’s a reason (sorry) to use this environment in place of another tool – modularity. And since the plug-ins appear inside a device loader in the rack, they still feel more part of your project. You also get Reason’s preset management. (This does break compatibility if you’re exchanging files and collaborating, though, we should point out.)

serum_back

The patching thing I believe is really cool – maybe cool enough to give Propellerhead a break for the many sound arguments they made over the years about the problems with plug-ins. Environments that have opened up that kind of open patching paradigm – like Sensomusic Usine – have proven really useful. So it makes loads of sense in Reason.

Frankly, the only thing that’s a bit disappointing here is that Reason supports VST 2.4 but not the newer VST 3.0. In any other environment, that wouldn’t be much of a demerit, but it’s a bit odd given that they’ve just done ground-up plug-in support.

Could this slow the development of Rack Extensions? Well, I think on some level the calculation doesn’t change at all from a business perspective. If it made sense to develop for the Reason user base separately before, it still makes sense now. If it didn’t, it still … doesn’t, only now at least those users can access your plug-ins.

But if you’re surprised when people make a big deal about this, well, the thing is — when you’ve not done something for a long time, it becomes news when you finally do. Apologies to all the other DAWs who have always had plug-in support.

Actually, speaking of prophecies of the end times, the Bible has a bit about this whole thing. Apologies to Christians here for slightly mangling the King James Bible, but … there’s a teachable lesson, I’m sure.

And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.

And he answering said to his father, “Lo, these many years do I serve thine VST SDKs and provide thee with mine plug-in support, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment but for the occasional bug okay or perhaps an errant system crash but yet did I continue with thou plug-ins comport: and yet thou never gavest me a YouTube video with dramatic piano music as a kid, that I might make merry with my friends and increase mine subscriber count.

But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with his proprietary ecosystem and those ridiculous patch cables and lived the good live up in Stockholm with the eating of Swedish treats and herring and whatever those cinnamon roll things are called, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.

And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. And thou still make let’s be honest the industry-leading DAW by market share.

It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. And also, I really want to run Serum, and make God’s children’s dance to my new EDM track, even thou mine enemies think it’s the devil’s work.

I’m really, really sorry. You should probably go read Luke 15:11-15:32 now.

But yes, the parable still kind of holds.

And Serum in Reason. Enjoy.

A beta is out now; full release comes end of May:

Announcing Reason 9.5

The post Hell freezes over, Reason 9.5 adds VST support appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

ArduTouch is an all-in-one Arduino synthesizer learning kit for $30

This looks like a near-perfect platform for learning synthesis with Arduino – and it’s just US$30 (with an even-lower $25 target price).

It’s called ArduTouch, a new Arduino-compatible music synth kit. It’s fully open source – everything you need to put this together is available on GitHub. And it’s the work of Mitch Altman, something of a celebrity in DIY/maker circles.

Mitch is the clever inventor of the TV B-Gone – an IR blaster that lets you terminate TV power in places like airport lounges – plus brainwave-tickling gear like the Neurodreamer and Trip Glasses. (See his Cornfield Electronics manufacturer.) Indeed, some ten years ago when CDM hosted its first MusicMakers / Handmade Music event in New York, Mitch happened to be in town and put us all in a pleasant, totally drug-free trance state with his glasses. He’s also a music fan, though, so it’s great to see him get back into music synthesis.

And ArduTouch is hugely clever. It’s an Arduino clone, but instead of just some headers and pins for connecting wires (boring), it also adds a PCB touch keyboard for playing notes, some extra buttons and pots so you can control sounds, and an all-important amp and speaker, so you can hear the results on just the board. (You’ll obviously want to plug into extra gear for more power and loudness.)

You don’t have to code. Just put this together, and you can start making music.

That’s already pretty cool, but the real magic comes in the form of two additional ingredients:

Software. ArduTouch is a new library that enables the synthesis capabilities of the board. This means you can also customize synth functionality (like adding additional control or modifying the sound), or create your own synths.

Tutorials. When you want to go deeper, the other side of this is a set of documentation to teach you the basics of DSP (digital signal processing) using the board and library.

In other words, what you’ve got is an all-hardware course on DSP coding, on a $30 board. And that’s just fabulous. I’ve always thought working on a low-level with hardware is a great way to get into the basics, especially for those with no previous coding background.

Looks like I’ve got a summer project. Stay tuned. And thanks, Mitch!

This obviously needs videos and sound samples and the like so — guess we should get on that!

ardutouch

https://github.com/maltman23/ArduTouch

In the meantime, though, here’s Mitch with some great inspiration on what hacking and making is about. Mitch is uncommonly good at teaching and explaining and generally being a leader for all kinds of people worldwide. Have a look:

He also walks people through the hackerspace movement and where it came from – especially meaningful to us, as the hacklabs and knowledge transfer projects we host are rooted directly in this legacy (including via Mitch’s own contributions). This talk is really must-watch, as it’s one of the best explanations I’ve seen on what this is about and how to make it work:

Don’t know how to solder? Mitch has you covered:

And for a how-to that’s equally important, Mitch talks about how to do what you love:

The post ArduTouch is an all-in-one Arduino synthesizer learning kit for $30 appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Go gear crazy with the best synth gear unveiled at Superbooth

In just its second edition, Schneidersladen has turned the Superbooth into the world’s coolest synth gathering and most focused electronic music gear get-together. The Berlin-based event attracted a who’s who of international music gear makers, from modular to desktop, tiny to huge.

So that led to the inevitable question: “what have you seen? What’s cool?” Sometimes you got to that topic before, like, “hello, how are you?”

Well, while there was a litany of great new stuff, particularly (unsurprisingly) in the modular sphere, here are the prototypes and gear launches that I think represent the best of the best.

We’ll have follow-ups in the coming days, including some interviews and high-quality gear audio samples. But these stood out – both for me and for other folks I talked to. (Oh, and if I missed you, just get in touch or leave a comment! And, uh, next time, put a Soyuz capsule next to your booth and I probably will get attracted to it like a bee to honey.)

monostation

That's how to do advance press - Sound on Sound reprints were available alongside the Peak. Then again, most people focused on ... playing with Peak, and doing their own review.

That’s how to do advance press – Sound on Sound reprints were available alongside the Peak. Then again, most people focused on … playing with Peak, and doing their own review.

Novation. Superbooth is still about boutique makers and tiny shops, but credit is due to some of the bigger players. Novation’s entire engineering teams were on hand to show off their latest two synths, the Circuit Mono Station and Peak. And these instruments were terrific hits, appreciated by fellow engineers and musicians alike. The big test: people couldn’t get enough of playing Peak. That’s a good reminder that the synth market will never become just a commodity: these are instruments. You have to fall in love with them.

bastldemo

They're just prototypes, but these handy widgets Bastl had scattered over their booth look really promising, too.

They’re just prototypes, but these handy widgets Bastl had scattered over their booth look really promising, too.

Bastl coffee, your editor's single favorite product of the show. (Junkie.)

Bastl coffee, your editor’s single favorite product of the show. (Junkie.)

Bastl Instruments. Novation might have “won” Superbooth, were it not that they were right next to the plucky Czech wizards of Bastl. And this booth had everything. Not only were two of the biggest products of the show there (the softPop synth and Thyme effects processor), but Bastl’s corner was bestrewn with other great ideas. There were tiny mono mixers (Dude). There was a project to work with a friend to roast sustainable coffee, partnering directly with farmers in Colombia. (The roaster is set to travel to Latin America to work side by side with said farmers. Thanks, Bastl, for keeping me awake by brewing this.) There was a lovely glossy zine full of essays and crisp black and white photos and, in Bastl’s words, “Eastern European broken English.” There were cassette tapes. There were performances with drum triggers hooked up to a modular. And there were even literally ideas sprinkled over the booth, in the form of LEGO-like widgets for combining signals and adding patch points. Bastl just seem to be endlessly overflowing with ideas, and they keep shipping them.

I’ll cover softPop separately, in that I think it’s so great. Here’s a video of it in action, triggering a light.

Crazy new stuff from @bastlinstruments and @casperelectronics at #superbooth

A post shared by CDM (@cdmblogs) on Apr 21, 2017 at 10:38am PDT

digitakt

Elektron Digitakt. Elektron made a strong showing in 2017, both hosting a massive blowout concert/party at the Funkhaus Friday night, and showing the one bit of kit absolutely everyone wanted to get their hands on. Their new Digitakt sampler/drum machine was probably the single hardest bit of gear to demo, out of sheer force of popularity.

But the hardware looks and feels and sounds terrific – and crucially, it looks like they’ve totally nailed workflow. The key here is, no more menu diving – everything is quick and accessible. Can’t wait to review this one. It seems poised to become the dominant drum machine hardware out there.

Also, the other good news on Digitakt is that external sequencing features look significant. That could make this not only a great standalone machine, but a live performance hub / computer replacement.

Jomox have their own new drum machine. Okay, so the Digitakt is great, and a beautiful mainstream device. But does it have any more eccentric competition? Yes. Yes, it does.

JoMoX may not be a known name outside of enthusiast circles, but this Berlin-based drum machine maker has been the secret sauce of techno specialists for years. And finally, there’s a new hybrid analog drum machine. Is it going to appeal to everyone? No. Is it decidedly old-fashioned in some of its design decisions? Yes. But JoMoX has a sound and performance features that other drum machines can only dream of. It’s like buying an Italian sports car – it may not be as purely practical as something else, but that doesn’t matter once you’ve fallen in love with this. Creator Jürgen Michaelis is a genius, as far as I’m concerned, so we’ll have to take a look at this. It’s too soon to judge just yet, but it could finally be a worthy successor to the legendary XBase 09. (“Legendary what?” Trust me on this. Or just watch the video above.)

dominionclub

MFB have made a compact Dominion. This might just be the sleeper hit of the show for synth lovers. While Behringer was crowing about making synths on a budget, Berlin boutique shop MFB actually promised to pack loads of synth functionality on the lavish, powerful Dominion into a tiny case – and project a price for around $500. Whoa. It’s as idiosyncratic as MFB normally are, with tiny controls and lots of hidden features. But that’s part of why we love them, and at this price, with insane amounts of modulation, they may have a hit.

Also quietly announced at Superbooth, MFB’s little-known Nanozwerk synth is now in Eurorack form. Its simple, clear architecture is actually perfectly suited to that market – I could see it forming the bread-and-butter basis of someone’s modular rig.

eloquencer

eloquencer_closeup2

Eloquencer. I think this is my favorite module of the whole show. Coming from designers in Barcelona, it’s termed a “controlled chance sequencer.” What that basically means is, you have granular per-step control over randomized variations of all parameters. You can use that for subtle variety and humanization, or crank it up for more randomization. Now, there are lot of sequencers around, but this one deserves mention just for its attention to detail. Moving sequences around is easy. Separating a part of a sequence from the master clock is easy, allowing you to run freely or clock off an LFO. (Why doesn’t computer software let you do this, actually?) You can punch in sequences, generate them randomly, play them live. And the small screen gives you just enough feedback to keep track of where you are.

It’s honestly about the cleverest hardware step sequencer I’ve seen, bar none. Some people may wind up getting it even to use outside of a modular context, though having the patch points is interesting. (With that in mind, they did show a prototype external housing.) This one is definitely on my review list, and I hope to make a visit to all the great hardware vendors in Barcelona, as well (hello to Endorphin, for instance).

4ms

4ms Spherical Wavetable Generator. “Who needs another oscillator?” is a charge I routinely hear levied at the modular market. (“Who needs another synth?” is another reasonable question we all manage to avoid!) Well, here’s one answer: make a really great wavetable oscillator. That’s what 4ms have done, cleverly repurposing the (equally genius) Spectral Multiband Resonator‘s design. Here, it works perfectly, giving you easy additive access to bands and dial-in access to wavetables. Also, by toggling the buttons above the bands, you can apply parameter changes to just one band at a time for subtler sound design. (They hadn’t quite resolved this in firmware yet, but it was already promising.) You can also route signals in.

I can’t think of an oscillator module that delivers this much sound. You could almost throw this alone in a suitcase and call it a day. And the patch points and control layout all make sense in this form factor and modular environment.

tungsten2

tungsten

Tungsten. Game hardware was doing handheld music making before handheld music making was a thing – see the Game Boy scene, for instance. Now, there’s a chance to rekindle that spirit, but with a new, Linux-based core. Tungsten is a project out of Canada’s Kilpatrick Audio, who apparently decided to take a break from making very lovely, sensible modules to do something a bit more leftfield. It’s a rigorous throwback – there’s no touch screen, just arcade-style buttons – but an open approach and lots of connectivity, plus a simply adorable form factor, suggest this idea might finally have some legs. (We’ve seen abortive attempts to do the same, but they came with more proprietary approaches to software, overly clunky form factors, and a lot of money blown on Musikmesse booths. Superbooth and open and design that learns from the appeal of the Game Boy seem a better recipe.)

presonusquantum

PreSonus have a modular-friendly Thunderbolt interface. So, the interface connection wars are over, and Thunderbolt has (mercifully) won, both on Mac and now finally Windows. PreSonus have a promising interface that both promises sub-1ms latency via their drivers, and offers DC coupling for connection to modular if you so desire. And they have some strong opinions in the video about running natively rather than via DSP. Plus they’re projecting street price of US$999. More on this when they do their formal announcement.

musicthing2

musicthing1

Music thing’s Magnetophone. Okay, this one was already shown at last year’s Superbooth, but it’s easily one of the best modules of the show – and now it’s just about ready to ship. Coming from our friend Tom Whitwell, who made the jump from music tech writer to modular maker, it’s a stroke of sheer genius. Connect a magnetic tape head to a modular, and then perform by running it over tape. Finally, you can live out your Nam June Paik / Laurie Anderson fantasy, in about as complete a sound nerd convergence as one can imagine.

seq

Polyend SEQ. This product deserves special mention I think partly for feeling like one of the best-crafted industrial designs at the show. The encoders, the custom pads, and the aluminum and oak body feel like pure luxury. And having 32 steps and 8 tracks physically laid out without any menu switching is uniquely accessible. I’m not totally convinced yet by the actual sequence editing, which wasn’t yet complete in firmware. But between SEQ and the high-end PERC PRO robotic percussion system, this company out of Poland are proving that it’s possible to create new innovations for deep-pocketed electronic musicians. And it’s nice to see someone pick up on the craftsmanship statement the original monome made, and not just its grid design.

http://polyend.com/seq-sequencer/

rossum

Sound Semiconductor and Rossum. I think the quietest news at Superbooth may have been the best – prepare to get a little geeky for a second. Ron Dow and Solid State Music, founded in 1975, are an unsung hero of the electronic music revolution. So you know Dave Smith and MIDI – but Solid State also helped propel the industry with cheap chips that formed the building blocks of a lot of the gear that would come. Now, the original engineers (including Dave Rossum) are making new VCA and VCF chips, improving on their original designs. The upside here is, you get engineer-driven, musician-friendly chips from the original creators, instead of reverse-engineered clones. Part of the mark of Superbooth as opposed to other shows, and how many engineers were gathered in Berlin, was evidenced by all the engineers crowding around Dave and Ron and checking out the specs.

On the consumer side, I got my first play on Rossum’s Morpheus “Z-plane” filter, seen above. Now, what I want to say is, this runs the dangerous road of putting effectively a high-end software plug-in a modular. But I can’t say that – because using this module is simply a delight. It sounds absolutely delicious, and that color screen and luxe knobs are a joy to use. It feels like one of those few modules you’d really want to splurge on and treasure. And it’s an example of the high-quality, serious gear now available in modular, stuff that feels like real tools.

The new Assimil8or also looks cool:

Polivoks gets a proper clone. Interest in Soviet-era synthesis just keeps rising, but now that the secondhand market has worked out that we want this post-Communist stuff, it’s expensive (not to mention typically unreliable). And clones have been scattered. Now, finally, the peculiar Polivoks synth gets a real all-in-one reissue. It’s authorized by the original designer, and modernized. Unfortunately they’re doing only 100 units.

I can tell you my Moscow-based Russian friends were excited by it.

I’m curious how the Polivoks legacy and growing Russian synth scene will evolve in the near term. I should be visiting the Russian capital (again) for Synthposium later this summer, so it’ll be a good chance to check in on them.

Erica Synth’s Dual Filter. While Polivoks gets its own reissue, Erica in Riga, Latvia are also operating with some of the humans and manufacturing capacity of the former Soviet synth production. (Riga was an industrial center of the USSR.) And in a crowded modular market, I think Erica deserve credit for putting together complete systems of gear. The dual filter is an elegant, intelligent design to add to that portfolio.

Eowave Quandrantid Swarm. I covered it before, but the new Eowave deserves a second mention. Its sound and design is genuinely unique.

yamaharobot

Amazing robotic #reface from @yamahasynths_official

A post shared by CDM (@cdmblogs) on Apr 23, 2017 at 1:05pm PDT

Yamaha’s beautifully unnecessary Reface robot. Here’s how you show up to Superbooth. You show up with a damned robotic keyboard connected to a massive number of knobs. This crazy project was produced in collaboration with Fukuoka’s Anno Lab.

But I list it here for another reason. Japan’s big makers are finally returning to their nerdy roots. KORG gets it, with products like volca and analog remakes. Roland gets it, with a splashy booth inside a space station mockup and experiments in modular and AIRA and boutique. Yamaha gets it, with products like Reface and a renewed commitment to synthesis. Casio … hey, where’s Casio? I want a new CZ. (Answer: at Musikmesse, showing a bunch of digital pianos. And that’s fine. But I hold out hope for them to get religion and remember they were once a great synth brand. Because I want a new CZ.)

soyuz

superbooth_in_space

All that and cool space stuff. FEZ Berlin somehow tops the Funkhaus for cool ex-DDR venues that work perfectly for synth fairs. The Communist-era space props everywhere just added to the fun.

That’s it for now – we’ll keep bringing you in-depth Superbooth coverage all week, in our usual slow news fashion.

For still more, keep an eye on our Instagram:
https://www.instagram.com/cdmblogs/

The post Go gear crazy with the best synth gear unveiled at Superbooth appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Bastl’s Thyme is an advanced digital effect inspired by tape

What if you had an effect in hardware that acted like tape – with tape heads, adjustable speed, and so on? But what if that tape were … digital, instead of analog? And what if it were run by a … robot? And sequenced? Wait, huh?

Well, step again into the wacky imagination of Bastl Instruments. They showed off an early prototype of this concept back in 2015, only to have the hardware go off the radar for a while. Now, it’s back in a more or less completed instrument, one that delivers on that early potential. It’s called Thyme.

Even after just a short play, Thyme looks like it might be worth the wait. It’s possibly the most sophisticated design from Bastl to date. Whereas modules and desktop hardware from Bastl have mostly focused on cheap, playful ideas, Thyme is a fairly advanced effect with loads of functionality. While I can’t repeat the price estimate, I think it’s also fair to say this will be at a higher price point than Bastl’s existing desktop gear.

thyme1

The particular stroke of genius here is with one set of controls, mimicking a whole lot of effects categories normally found in multi-effects units. (Think “delay, phaser, reverb, chorus, pitch shifter, multi-tap delay, tape delay, tremolo, vibrato, compressor,” to believe their list – and in just a few moments of testing, we hit a lot of those.)

A lot of these sounds originally arose out of tape techniques in the first place. What Bastl have done is to reorganize all those same temporal effects around a tape interface.

Some of those (like delay) work in ways that obviously come out of analog tape. Others work in more digital-sounding ways, performing sonic feats that would normally be impossible with tape. And, this being a Bastl instrument, you can push the envelope of digital sounds to get crunchy, bit-degraded digital extremes if you want – though you can also get some gorgeous, ringing textures, too. For those who love aliased timbres, it might just be a must-buy.

And while some of these things are possible in hardware, it’s just terrific to have physical controls in this layout. It feels like an instrument right away – with the knobs themselves arrayed where tape capstans normally would be.

The controls are all tape-inspired, but let you modulate freely between all these different effects:

Speed
Delay Coarse
Delay Fine
Feedback
Filter
Spacing (between extra heads)

And then there’s the requisite wet/dry control.

In addition to dialing these in directly, you can modulate them via LFO (with various waveshapes, selectable by push-button), external CV, or an envelope follower. The envelope follower lets the dynamics of the signal modulate the result, and open up treating the whole thing as a kind of dynamics processor, too. These various modulation sources are what Bastl have slightly charmingly called the “robot” – but you can also think of this as powerful modulation.

To this, Bastl have added buttons on the bottom, which serve both as preset storage and recall and step sequencing. So you can simply tap on a preset you want when you need it, or you can make elaborate series of sequenced effects by arranging patterns from those presets. I was particularly impressed that in my brief test, extreme changes between presets didn’t stop the Thyme from shifting from one setting to another seamlessly.

All in all, though, I think it’s some seriously clever stuff. And to anyone complaining that there were “no new ideas” at Superbooth, I’m impressed that you couldn’t get past the entryway without stumbling across two very new ideas from Bastl. It’s true that a lot of the Eurorack phenomenon is, by its very nature and economy, variations on a theme. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for fresh perspectives in electronic music hardware, generally – and we can count on Brno’s scene of inventors to shake things up.

I can’t wait for this one to arrive.

(You can’t hear it in this video … I will try to collect some audio today, or else stay tuned for our review. CDM is overdue a Brno, Czech field trip too, or I can try to lure them out to Prague next time I’m there!)

Oh yeah, and for history’s sake – flashback to 2015 and the earlier prototype. The concept was there, but not fully fleshed out. This isn’t just two years waiting for refinement; clearly, in those two years, they really developed what the hardware was about.

Specs:

analog Input Gain knob up to +20dB
9 parameters: Tape Speed, Delay Coarse & Fine, Feedback, Filter, extra heads Spacing and Levels, Dry Wet Mix and Volume
each parameter has a dedicated modulation source called the Robot
each Robot is a powerfull modulation source: LFO, envelope follower, external CV
freeze button reconfigures the signal flow to create tape loops
link button compensates the change in Delay time caused by adjusting the Tape Speed
tap tempo
internal or external clock for synchronising Delay, Robot or Sequencer
8 presets organized in 8 banks (64 presets)
32 step sequencer with 4 patterns for sequencing presets
switchable stereo/mono input
stereo output
stereo headphone output with volume knob
MIDI Input and Output
analog Clock Input
CV input 0-5V (volt per octave for Tape Speed and Delay Time)
footswitch jack for bypass
hi-fi audio quality

http://www.bastl-instruments.com/instruments/thyme/

The post Bastl’s Thyme is an advanced digital effect inspired by tape appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Here’s a video tour of Novation’s drool-worthy Peak polysynth

The fine folks of Sound on Sound took a tour of the new Novation Peak polysynth in their UK offices.

There’s a lot that can be said about the Peak, but here are the two obvious advantages.

First, those digital oscillators are quite clever. It maybe tripped up marketing and some press initially, but the point here is that these should really be indistinguishable from analog equivalents – while with the flexibility (and cost, and power draw) of digital oscillators.

Second, while there is a display, it seems there’s almost no menu diving involved. Each section of the instrument is readily accessible, including the effects. Modulation uses the display, but in a perfectly logical way. And all that power is still kept neat and tidy. I’m keen to play it, because it could be a really ideal desktop poly.

More soon. I’ll be talking in some detail to the Novation team.

The post Here’s a video tour of Novation’s drool-worthy Peak polysynth appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Eowave’s Quandrantid Swarm is a weird scifi synth like no other

“All synths today just sound the same.” Sure. Fair. Well, but then something comes along that sounds more like it’s ready to produce a trippy soundtrack for a wandering scifi epic about a journey to Jupiter, filmed in early-70s Czechoslovakia.*

Meet the Quandrantid Swarm. It’s the latest creation from French boutique Eowave, whose inventions have always tended to the experimental and unique. And while they also do modular now, I can’t help but feel this is Eowave at their best – making desktop instruments and oddball interfaces. These are creations with an eye to the past, but in some sort of alternate history that bent in a different direction.

There’s actually a lot packed into the Swarm’s retro-styled prototype. The synth voice itself is digital, but that gets routed through a 2-pole analog filter, modulation with eight selectable waveforms, and – what really defines the vintage character here – a spring reverb.

There’s also a unique touchplate interface, which acts as a keyboard (either monophonic or polyphonic) or an eight-step sequencer.

Plus there are patch points on the main panel, making this a bit of a tiny submodular.

MIDI and CV/trig connectivity let you integrate this with your studio.

qs_3

qs_2

qs_1

While they’re unveiling the prototype at Superbooth amidst a sea of modulars, this also demonstrate the particular place desktop gear can occupy. Sure, you could cobble together something sort of like this using a modular rig (though probably for a bit more scratch). But while that flexibility has inarguable value, I think there’s also something special about defining this particular set of functions as a single, integrated instrument.

Release date is TBD, with tentative retail pricing set at 499€. I’m seeing people complain about the price but I don’t know what they’re on about – there’s literally nothing that competes with this particular instrument, as it’s a one-of-a-kind invention. And I’m sure some people will find a home for it.

I had to miss the first day of Superbooth, but this is way up on my list to go see tomorrow, so shout if you have questions about this or anything else Eowave and I’ll dig up some answers.

In the meantime, for singular synths and ribbons and things, see:

http://www.eowave.com/

*Actually, there probably is such a film – exploring the masterpieces of Communist cinema should really be a topic for another post, if anyone wants to contribute. Poland, the DDR, and USSR had some gems I can think of off the top of my head. And… yeah, I’d still choose the Eowave to continue the tradition of unusual sounds, because those things still sound futuristic today. Maybe even more so.

The post Eowave’s Quandrantid Swarm is a weird scifi synth like no other appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Peak is the new polysynth from the creator of Novation’s classics

Novation the synth manufacturer looks to be back with a vengeance.

In addition to the new Circuit Bass Station as its mono/paraphonic synth offering, the company has a new polysynth flagship. The UK company says they brought in Chris Huggett, the creator of the Bass Station, Supernova, and OSCar.

What you get is sort of an 8-voice synth inspired by the Bass Station II. You get eight full-featured new Oxford voices with a hybrid analog/digital sound – numerically-controlled oscillators that behave like analog oscillators, plus 17 digital wavetables for the full palette of digital sound. You can also use these as FM sources either way, and even cross-modulate for more sounds. (I’m hoping to grab some audio samples of that soon.)

Note – that is digital. These are numerically controlled oscillators, which I suspect is generating some confusion. Also interesting: Peak has a 1-bit digital architecture. These are topics for a follow-up story, maybe, to explain what that means in engineering terms to those interested. But the point is, you get an analog-sounding synth without some of the inflexibility or cost that are sometimes associated with that.

And there’s full-featured modulation, too, with a 16-slot modulation matrix.

Each voice gets three ADSR envelopes and two LFOs each.

“Animate” gives the synths some live performance features.

There’s some unexpected flexibility here. Not only do you get resonant multi-mode filters on each voice, but there are three distortion points for each – pre- and post-filter and global.

All the expected extras are there, too: reverb, delay, and chorus, plus an arpeggiator, USB, MIDI DIN, and CV.

Components software for patch storage will work with this as on the Circuit line.

peak_overhead-hr

peak-plus-stand_3quart-left_v2-hr

peak_rear-hr

I haven’t had the chance to write it up yet, but Waldorf’s own polysynth announced at Musikmesse was out of reach to a lot of us, given that instrument will be “no less than” three grand. Novation give us a poly synth with wavetables and lots of features, at a price that’s easier to swallow.

This also means the competition with Behringer’s synth offerings is on a more level playing field than you might have imagined. Behringer’s synths can’t compete on price alone, given DeepMind and Peak each hover at around a grand. You’ll invest in the instrument you like better. And that seems like how it should be in the first place, particularly with some talented synth designers behind each. (Behringer is also at Superbooth this week, in a departure from what began as a very boutique-minded show.)

That said, what this isn’t is analog. So expect some forum debates about whether “true analog signal path” matters or not. Novation are quick to say this “sounds analog” but benefits from digital functionality. And I think that’s really the bottom line – if it sounds good, it is good. We’ll take a closer look this week in Berlin, so let us know if you’ve got questions.

Available in May. Pricing:
US = $1299.99 ex. tax
Germany = €1429.99 inc. 19% VAT
UK = £1249.99 inc. 20% VAT

There’s also a nice stand for around a hundred bucks, though that’ll be later this year.

Ask.audio have some terrific in-depth videos:

The post Peak is the new polysynth from the creator of Novation’s classics appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Novation Circuit Mono Station: paraphonic, feature packed, $499

Take the grid-based workflow of Circuit – and build a sequencer workstation with a paraphonic analog synth.

That’s the formula of the Circuit Mono Station, one of two new synth products Novation are showing off this week in Berlin at Superbooth. We got a first look via leaked photos; now here are the full details.

Physically, the Circuit Mono Station has the 32 RGB velocity-sensitive pads from the Circuit, plus hands-on controls. But in place of the drum machine / Nova digital polysynth combo (and limited macro encoder controls), what you get is:

circuit_monostation_lifestyle2

A three-track sequencer. Yeah, so makers are finally working out that part of what we want to do is drive external synths (via CV or MIDI or both). Here, you get three track’s worth.

Now, interestingly, you get two “oscillator” sequencers and one “modulation” sequencer. On each, you have gate length, sync rate, and then you can either switch or mutate patterns.

An analog synth. Based on the classic Bass Station II (well, obviously), you get duophonic (two-note) and monophonic operation, three different kinds of distortion, sub oscillator, ring mod, overdrive, and multi-mode filter. (There’s just one set of filter and envelope controls, but you can sequence two pitches at once in addition to one in the duophonic/paraphonic* mode.)

Bonus: lots of modulation: four waveshapes, envelope, sequencer, or velocity, which you can route to pitch, pulse-width, amp, filter, distortion, or CV.

And you still get some digital-era benefits: 64 patches to load and save.

It’s also really an audio processor/sequenced modulator. Audio input means all those sequencing features coupled with the filters and distortion let you modulate external signal, too. That more or less doubles the use of this box, and it’s very clever.

Generally, integration is the message. Circuit already had Web-based integration with Components. That will evidently get repeated here, with a USB connection to your computer.

But you now also get features that focus on integration with your studio. In addition to the audio input, you get MIDI in, out, and thru, plus analog ins and outs – and that integrates with the sequencer.

And I think it’s relevant that this Circuit inherits all the features that gradually evolved over the previous models’s consistent firmware updates, adding features like Scales mode.

circuit-ms_overhead_dual-mode

Accordingly, this is all a little pricier than the original Circuit, but occupies a nice niche just above the drum machine’s price point. (And the two are an obvious pairing, as then you’ve got drums and poly, plus external sequencer and bass. Or route the previous Circuit into the new one and add sequenced filtering and distortion. I can’t wait to play with this.)

Available in July. Pricing by region:

US = $499.99 ex. tax
Germany = €549.99 inc. 19% VAT
UK = £479.99 inc. 20% VAT

For more background on just how much control you get in the sequencer, the developers point out to me that PWM is something you can modulate:

We mentioned Pulse Width, and Pulse Width can be Modulated in the Modulation Matrix by selecting the Envelope, Mod Sequence, LFO or Velocity as the source and selecting PWM as the destination then turning up the Depth

And Chris Mayes-Wright has an extensive behind-the-scenes essay on how this product was developed, which makes for interesting reading:

Circuit Mono Station: Behind The Scenes

* Paraphonic / duophonic – what does that mean? Synths that have separately-controllable oscillators, routed through a common voice architecture (filter/amplitude) are generally called paraphonic. That’s the term Novation use. In this case, you can independently control the pitch of two oscillators at once, via the Circuit Mono Station’s sequencer. But there’s only one amplitude envelope and filter through which they can be routed, so they aren’t truly independent voices – just independent oscillators.

In other words, you can hear two notes at once, but you’ll have just one set of filter and amplitude controls for both.

(Duophonic does not mean two-note polyphonic. It means two-note paraphonic – still one voice. And… I guess we need to make a synth trivia game or something.)

The post Novation Circuit Mono Station: paraphonic, feature packed, $499 appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Novation Mono Station synth sequencer just leaked via retail

Novation’s Circuit drum machine/synth/sequencer combo already found a lot of fans. Now it looks like they’ve got another all-in-one grid instrument – this time, a mono/paraphonic synth with sequencer. And whereas the Nova polysynth in the Circuit is hidden behind controls, here you get loads of hands-on control.

The Novation Mono Station has leaked via retailers like Dutch prodjstore and are already making rounds on social media. Most interesting I’d say, apart from combining the grid sequencer with a hands-on synth, is that modulation matrix. (It’s not bad having distortion plus a multi-mode filter with overdrive, either.)

In a nod to analog fans, you also get a full complement of CV controls round the back, in addition to MIDI and USB.

Novation are in town here in Berlin for Superbooth, so we’ll be sure to talk to them – and see what they’ve got to tell us about this or anything else new.

But to see this from the makers of the beloved Bass Station I’d say is good news indeed for desktop synthesis fans. And it continues the trend of putting sequencers on these instruments instead of keys. (See also: volca series, Roland AIRA, Pioneer AS-1, Circuit of course, and so on.)

novation-circuit-mono-station

novation-circuit-mono-station2

Specs leaked, too:

Two oscillators with individual control of sync and tuning parameters
High-pass, low-pass and band-pass filters with slopes of 12dB and 24dB
Three distortion modes
Choose monophonic or paraphonic modes with individual glide control
Four-by-eight modulation matrix that enables complex alteration and routing
Load and save up to 64 patches on the device
Three sequencer tracks (two oscillator sequencers, one modulation sequencer)
32 velocity-sensitive RGB pads
16 scale types
Changeable sync rates
CV/Gate, CV mod plus MIDI In, Out and Thru for connecting and controlling separate hardware
Backup patches and sessions with Components

— and there are selectable waveforms, sawtooth, triangle, square, and sample + hold. (That “square” wave is actually PWM, too – you get a pulse width control. Corrected from an earlier draft of this article.)

Looks like another hit.

The post Novation Mono Station synth sequencer just leaked via retail appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

An earnest album, recorded to four-track, as Shamir looks for hope

We often describe quality pop and songwriting as effortless, as easy. But what about when it’s awkward, uncomfortable? Aren’t those the moments that describe longing?

When Shamir Bailey says he recorded his album to four track, the first thing I’m obligated to consider is, of course – he might be lying. And ground hum and hiss shouldn’t be accepted as any form of authenticity any more than should an Instagram filter.

But there’s no question artists today bear some burden of the polished album, whether in the form of the tools we use and their opportunities for endless obsessive adjustment, or the legacy of records past. And while I think we have to be at least a little suspicious of the superficial artifacts of immediacy, I think we can accept the music as evidence.

“Hope’s” songs themselves feel like they were recorded over a weekend. Forget the technology for a moment (yes, even on this tech-oriented site) – these songs sound like demos.

And they have an aching, earnest quality to them – every single one. If it was a four track involved, or whatever, it has that impression of an idea fresh in the mind and soul, before some of the original idea is eroded in the arrangement process. If this is an act, it’s a beautiful one. The emotions are real, if performed, and that’s surely what we ask of pop music.

Here’s Shamir’s statement, as background:

I was gonna quit music this weekend. From day 1 it was clear i was an accidental pop star. I loved the idea of it, i mean who doesn’t? Still the wear of staying polished with how im presented and how my music was presented took a huge toll on me mentally. I started to hate music, the thing i loved the most! When i would listen to immaculate recordings with my friends their praise over the quality of the art as opposed to the art itself made me feel really sad for music as a medium in general. My music only feels exciting for me if its in the moment, and thats what this album is. I made this album this past weekend stuck in my room with just a 4 track feeling hopeless about my love for music. Im not gonna lie, this album is hard to listen to, but it was even harder for me to share. I love pop music, i love outsider music, and i love lofi music, this is my way of combining all 3. Anyway I played, wrote, produced, and mixed everything and big thanks to Kieran Ferris for Mastering an album with an hours notice! its free! Enjoy! Love Yall! Still more 2 come!!!!!!!
Tracklist:
Hope
What Else
Ignore Everything
Tom Kelly
Easier
Like A Bird
One More Time Won’t Kill You
I Fucking Hate You
Rain (Blake Babies Cover)
Bleed It Out

So enough complaining, music lovers and music journos. You wanted real talent, raw and inarguable? Here it is.

Here’s a voice with the acrobatic gender-warping qualities of a Michael Jackson or Prince, but sounding like it speaks for the Millennial epoch (without any of those stupid whoops, but in tune with the zeitgeist).

Shamir Bailey is open about being “genderqueer,” though in doing so he finally gives word to the beautiful quality of singing in general – its ability to play with gender. It’s refreshing that he can identify in this way as well as convince us with his singing that his vocal cords aren’t bound by gender. And it’s about time artists can identify outside gender, vocally if they so choose. (We have a special obligation in electronic music to do better, because we have a sad legacy of decades of one of our most influential artists, Wendy Carlos, being mistreated by the press.) A suburban Las Vegas kid gone to New York, he’s already found pop stardom. But this to me is authentic, unfiltered self-expression. Songs can’t lie.

Go deeper into the record, and tracks cut off, vocals push out of tune, drums get violently behind – you feel desperation. This to me is punk aesthetics at the moment punk aesthetics tend to feel like pastiche. Emotional urgency is back. (I also think there’s no reason someone couldn’t do the same thing with electronics, if the feeling is still raw.)

And to anyone who says music is too easy to make and too easy to share, well, then here’s the answer. Find something to say, and find your voice.

It’s music good enough to wade through the obnoxious process of trying to download it from MediaFire.

And it makes me want to mess about with this multi-track tape machine and make something – because, really, why not?

Follow Shamir on Facebook, where his auto-assigned user ID has become like a social media badge of honor, digital native style:

https://www.facebook.com/Shamir326/

The post An earnest album, recorded to four-track, as Shamir looks for hope appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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